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North Korea ‘isolates and treats’ 187,000 people for fever after reporting its first COVID-19 cases – and confirmed at least one Omicron death

North Korea has treated 187,000 people for fever after the country reported its first COVID cases.

The state-run news agency KCNA said ‘up to 187,800 people are being isolated and treated’ and six people who were sick with fever had died, including one who tested positive for the Omicron variant.

  • The report added: ‘A fever whose cause couldn’t be identified explosively spread nationwide from late April.’
  • North Korea on Thursday confirmed its first-ever case of COVID-19, with state media calling it a ‘severe national emergency incident’ after more than two years of keeping the pandemic at bay.

KCNA said samples taken from patients sick with fever in Pyongyang on Sunday were ‘consistent with’ the virus’ highly transmissible Omicron variant.

The country’s top officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, held a crisis politburo meeting to discuss the outbreak and announced they would implement a ‘maximum emergency’ virus control system.

KCNA said Kim told the meeting that ‘the goal was to eliminate the root within the shortest period of time.’

‘He assured us that because of the people’s high political awareness … we will surely overcome the emergency and win the emergency quarantine project,’ it said.

Kim called for tighter border controls and lockdown measures, telling citizens ‘to completely block the spread of the malicious virus by thoroughly blocking their areas in all cities and counties across the country,’ KCNA said.

All business and production activities will be organised so each work unit is ‘isolated’ to prevent the spread of disease, it added.

Despite the decision to elevate anti-virus steps, Kim ordered officials to push ahead with scheduled construction, agricultural development and other state projects while bolstering the country’s defence postures to avoid any security vacuum.

The impoverished nuclear-armed nation has been behind a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade since early 2020 to protect itself from the pandemic.

It closed its border to nearly all trade and visitors for two years that further shocked an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile program.

  • North Korea in January tentatively reopened railroad freight traffic between its border town of Sinuiju and China’s Dandong, but China announced a halt to the trade last month as it deals with a spread of COVID-19 in Dandong.

It has so far has shunned vaccines offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution program, possibly because those have international monitoring requirements.

North Korea had not confirmed a single case of coronavirus until Thursday.

According to the World Health Organisation, North Korea had by the end of 2020 conducted 13,259 COVID-19 tests, which all came back negative.

Analysts have said North Korea’s crumbling health system would struggle to cope with a major virus outbreak.

  • Previous reports have suggested North Korea has in fact seen COVID-19 outbreaks in the past, although due to the nation’s secretive nature, it has been difficult to verify the true impact the virus has had inside the country.