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North Korea claims it's found its first ever case of Covid — activates 'maximum emergency' procedure

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seen in a photo dated April 29, 2022. KCNA via Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seen in a photo dated April 29, 2022. KCNA via Reuters
  • North Korea announced what it claims is its first ever case of Covid-19 on Thursday.
  • A single case of the Omicron variant was found in capital Pyongyang on Sunday, state media reported.
  • North Korea reopened its borders in January for the first time since early 2020.
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North Korea said on Thursday that it had found its first ever case of Covid-19, with the government announcing a comprehensive lockdown.

After the the novel coronavirus began to spread across Asia in early 2020, North Korea shut its borders and committed to a zero Covid-19 policy. It only reopened its borders in January this year. 

Until now, the country had claimed that not a single case of Covid had reached its borders, but state media reported on Thursday that authorities had discovered a single case of the Omicron variant in the capital Pyongyang on Sunday, according to NK News.

The same day North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un held a meeting of his politburo to discuss anti-Covid-19 response measures, the outlet said.

"The state epidemic prevention work shall be switched over to the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system," the government-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported. It is unclear what the emergency system entails. 

In November 2021, the World Health Organization said North Korea had yet to start vaccinating people against Covid-19. As of February this year, it is still yet to accept any deliveries of vaccines provided by aid agencies.

Though reporting no cases of Covid-19 until Thursday, the pandemic has hit North Korea hard, with the border closure precipitating food shortages.

State-run media reported in October that the government had started breeding black swans as a food source to try and solve the hunger crisis. 

Without mentioning Covid-19, in June last year Kim publically chastised top officials in a speech for allowing the country to suffer "grave consequences" from the pandemic.

North Korea has been vigilant in trying to prevent cases of Covid-19, though it cannot be known for sure if this week's case is actually the country's first given its longstanding history of misinformation.

In July 2020, Kim locked down the entire city of Kaesong and issued a "top-class alert" after a person suspected of having Covid-19 snuck across the border from South Korea, according to state media.

In August, North Korea announced new hard labour punishments for anyone who met in groups of more than three people. .

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