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First COVID Outbreak Confirmed in North Korea

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, one of the only countries that has reported no instances of the coronavirus is North Korea, at least allegedly. The country’s extremely insular nature has likely kept it isolated from outside infection for the most part, with any small outbreaks likely going unreported. However, it seems even North Korea isn’t completely impenetrable.

Today, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un publicly announced the country’s first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak, appearing in public with a face mask on. According to the Korean Central News Agency, an undisclosed number of viral samples have been collected this week from citizens in Pyongyang with fevers. These samples all tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

North Korea is known for having an underperforming healthcare system, and due to the country’s isolationist policies, it is very likely that the vast majority of the population is not vaccinated against the disease. International political experts are speculating that the situation may become severe enough for North Korea to solicit help from outside the country, likely from China.

“For Pyongyang to publicly admit omicron cases, the public health situation must be serious,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University, told AP. “This does not mean North Korea is suddenly going to be open to humanitarian assistance and take a more conciliatory line toward Washington and Seoul. But the Kim regime’s domestic audience may be less interested in nuclear or missile tests when the urgent threat involves coronavirus rather than a foreign military.”

North Korea may find it difficult to solicit aid from China, however, as China is currently in the midst of a major COVID outbreak of its own.

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