A schoolgirl wearing a face mask disinfects her hands before entering a school in Pyongyang, North Korea. AP
North Korea confirmed its first COVID-19 outbreak on Thursday, calling it the "gravest national emergency" and ordering a national lockdown, with state media reporting an Omicron variant had been detected in Pyongyang.
The country imposed a nationwide lockdown on Thursday to control its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak after holding for more than two years to a widely doubted claim of a perfect record keeping out the virus that has spread to nearly every place in the world.
The first public admission of COVID infections highlights the potential for a major crisis in a country that has refused international help with vaccinations and kept its borders shut.
The size of the outbreak wasn’t immediately known, but it could have serious consequences because the country has a poor health care system and its 26 million people are believed to be mostly unvaccinated. Some experts say the North, by its rare admission of an outbreak, may be seeking outside aid.
A health official sprays disinfectant as part of preventive measures against Covid-19 in Pyongyang. AFP
The official Korean Central News Agency said tests of samples collected on Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fever in the capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with the Omicron variant.
As of March, no cases of COVID-19 have been reported, according to the World Health Organization, and there is no official record of any North Koreans having been vaccinated.
"A most serious emergency case of the state occurred: A break was made on our emergency epidemic prevention front where has firmly defended for two years and three months from February, 2020," official KCNA news agency said.
Samples taken on May 8 from people in Pyongyang who were experiencing fevers showed a sub-variant of the Omicron virus, also known as BA.2, the report said, without providing details on case numbers or possible sources of infection.
Each casualty of the virus lost an average of 10 years of life when they died, according to an analysis by respected think tank the Health Foundation.
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