STORY: 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 found in Pyongyang.
This is actually the first public admission of a COVID infection in North Korea. That, coming more than two years after the first cases in neighbors South Korea and China highlights the potential for a major crisis in a country that has refused international help with vaccinations and kept its borders shut.
North Korea's official KCNA news agency said that QUOTE:
‘A most serious emergency case of the state occurred: A break was made on our emergency epidemic prevention front which has firmly defended us for two years and three months from February, 2020."
As of March no cases of COVID had been reported according to the WHO, and there is no official record of any North Koreans having been vaccinated.
Officials in South Korea and the US have doubted that the North is COVID-free as Omicron was widely reported in both China and South Korea next door.
The isolated North has enforced strict quarantine measures - including border lockdowns - since the pandemic began.
South Korea's presidential office told Reuters that new leader Yoon Suk-yeol, who was sworn in just days ago will not link humanitarian aid to the political situation between the Koreas, opening the door to providing support to the North.
However – North Korea’s news of COVID infections come amid reports by officials in the South and the U.S. of preparations for an imminent nuclear test by Pyongyang.