North Korea confirmed its first-ever Covid cases 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.
But samples taken from patients sick with fever in Pyongyang "coincided with Omicron BA.2 variant", the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
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".
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.
In January 2020, the North Korean government began taking extensive measures to protect itself from the initial COVID-19 epidemic, including the establishment of quarantine facilities, and strict travel restrictions. In March and April 2020, the Asia Times and 38 North reported that these measures seemed largely successful.
Before May 2022, the government of North Korea had not reported any confirmed cases of COVID-19, although some foreign analysts believed that the virus had spread there by March 2020.
Daily NK, a South Korean dissident-run news website, said that about 180 soldiers had possibly died from COVID-19 symptoms in January and February 2020, and that doctors had been told to not discuss COVID-19 as to not damage the reputation and image of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.
(with inputs from agencies)