After declaring for more than two years it had no cases of COVID-19, North Korea initiated lockdowns on Thursday due to reports of the virus surfacing in the country.
The COVID-19 outbreak was discovered after tests were conducted on people suffering from fevers in the capital city of Pyongyang. The presence of the Omicron variant was subsequently detected.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with the country’s other senior leaders before announcing the lockdown. As seen on NBC News, the country’s state television showed them wearing masks when entering the meeting.
The Wall Street Journal reports that since the March 2020 declaration of a global pandemic, the highly secretive country had claimed that it had yet to experience any virus cases.
Late last March, according to CNN, China once again instituted stringent lockdowns following an outbreak in the city of Shanghai. China’s lockdowns and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led to turmoil in worldwide financial markets.
Dominique Fraser, an Asia Society Policy Institute research associate, expressed some confusion over the timing of North Korea’s announcement. “It’s definitely likely that they’ve had COVID before, so I guess the main question is, why are they saying it now?” Fraser told NBC News.
A WSJ report suggests the previous level of COVID within North Korea may be less than other countries experienced simply because of the country’s severe border restrictions in early 2020.
Those restrictions included orders for border patrol troops to shoot anyone seen trying to cross into the country.
Still, fears about the potential severity of the virus within North Korea remain. They largely stem from the fact that the country has refused to accept vaccines that have been available for more than a year.
The WSJ reports speculation from some experts that North Korea may have rejected the COVID vaccine distribution plan set up by the United Nations because of international monitoring rules that come with acceptance.
In addition to the vaccine refusal, North Korea’s poor health care system and continuing food shortages could magnify the severity of the situation.
The Associated Press reports that food shortages are connected to economic sanctions because of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program. In defiance of those sanctions, the country has continued to conduct missile launches.
A few hours after news of the lockdown, CNBC reported North Korea launched its 16th different missile test since the start of the year. Some perceived the launch of the suspected ballistic missile as an attempt at national unity amid this new crisis.
The WSJ reports that despite North Korea’s lockdown, Kim Jong Un is allowing construction projects and agricultural development to continue throughout the country. Of note, North Korea is amidst its annual rice-planting season.