North Korea confirmed its first-ever COVID case on Thursday and declared a “serious emergency”, with leader Kim Jong Un ordering lockdowns across the country. The nuclear-armed country had never admitted to a case of COVID-19 and the government had imposed a rigid coronavirus blockade of its borders since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Top officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, held a crisis politburo meeting on Thursday to discuss the outbreak and announced they would implement the “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system”.

Samples taken from patients sick with a fever in Pyongyang “coincided with Omicron BA.2 variant”, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim “called on all the cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down their areas,” KCNA reported, although details of the restrictions were not immediately given.

Kim told the meeting that the goal was to “quickly cure the infections in order to eradicate the source of the virus spread,” according to KCNA.

Kim added that North Korea will “overcome the current sudden situation and win victory in the emergency epidemic prevention work”.

North Korea has turned down offers of vaccinations from the World Health Organization, China and Russia.

Accepting vaccines through the WHO’s Covax scheme “requires transparency over how vaccines are distributed,” Go Myong-Hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies told AFP. “That’s why North Korea rejected it,” Go said

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