SEOUL: North Korea confirmed its first-ever Covid-19 cases on Thursday and declared a “serious emergency”, with leader Kim Jong Un appearing in a mask on television for the first time to order nationwide lockdowns.
Hours after the shock announcement — the first time the nuclear-armed country has admitted to having Covid cases — Seoul’s military said it had detected three short-range ballistic missiles fired from near Pyongyang.
The launch, one of more than a dozen sanctions-busting weapons tests so far this year, comes shortly after Washington warned that Kim’s regime could test a nuke any day, with satellite images indicating fresh activity at nuclear sites.
Earlier on Thursday, North Korea said it had moved into a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system” after patients with fevers in Pyongyang tested positive for the “Omicron BA.2 variant” of Covid.
Kim, wearing a mask on state television for the first time, oversaw an emergency politburo meeting to discuss the outbreak and “called on all the cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down their areas”.
Kim told the meeting that the goal was to “quickly cure the infections in order to eradicate the source of the virus spread,” official news agency KCNA said, without specifying how many cases had been detected.
With its 25 million people not vaccinated against Covid, North Korea’s crumbling health infrastructure would struggle to deal with a major outbreak, experts say.
Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2022