TOKYO – North Korea says it has detected a case of the BA.2 omicron subvariant in its capital, Pyongyang, the first time the country has acknowledged a positive coronavirus infection since the pandemic began more than two years ago.
The positive case is a concerning development for a country that remains one of two nations in the world that is not vaccinated. North Korea has remained in a strict covid lockdown, shuttering its borders to most trade activity by land.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a leadership meeting and urged tighter border controls against covid, declaring a “maximum emergency” virus control method, according to state media. The person tested positive on May 8, and the results were identical to the BA.2, state media said Thursday.
With no vaccines at all, experts have said North Korea risks becoming the epicenter of new variants as a result of the population’s low immunity to the virus.
NKNews, a Seoul-based website focused on monitoring North Korea, had reported this week that people in Pyongyang were ordered into lockdown Tuesday, after warnings of a “national problem.” Individuals told the outlet there was panic buying and supply shortages as residents feared a prolonged lockdown in the capital.
State media Thursday called the outbreak a “serious national emergency.”
North Korea, already one of the most closed societies in the world, remains in a strict pandemic lockdown as it has adopted a strategy similar to China’s “zero covid” approach, with serious implications for the health and food security of its population.
In recent weeks, North Korean state media repeatedly warned about taking greater covid precautions due to outbreaks along its border with China, urging the public to “strengthen the anti-epidemic work in preparation for the prolonged emergency.”
It appears the virus nonetheless entered the country. Until now, North Korea said it had no positive cases, though many experts doubt the veracity of that claim.
This is a developing story and will be updated. Min Joo Kim contributed to this report.