North Korea on Thursday officially confirmed its first COVID-19 outbreak and ordered a national lockdown, state news agency KCNA reported.
The isolated nation has never admitted to having a single case of the coronavirus. The government has imposed a rigid blockade of its borders since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
The state news report said a sub-variant of the highly transmissible omicron variant had been detected in the capital, Pyongyang. It did not provide details of case numbers or possible sources of infection. The samples of the infected people were collected on May 8, it said.
"There has been the biggest emergency incident in the country, with a hole in our emergency quarantine front, that has been kept safely over the past two years and three months since February 2020," KCNA said.
A meeting with top Workers' Party officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, was held, where it was decided that a "maximum emergency" virus control system would be implemented, the news agency reported.
Meanwhile, South Korea's presidential office said it was willing to provide humanitarian assistance to the North.
Strict lockdown ordered
According to KCNA, Kim ordered all cities and counties to "strictly lock down" to prevent the virus from spreading and said emergency reserve medical supplies would be mobilized.
South Korean and Chinese media had reported that North Koreans had been advised to stay home, without referring to the COVID-19 virus.
Although North Korea has denied having any coronavirus infections in the country prior to this, experts have cast doubts over these claims.
Pyongyang has declined shipments of vaccines from the COVAX global COVID-19 vaccine-sharing program and the Sinovac Biotech vaccine from China.
tg/nm (AFP, AP, Reuters)