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Kim Jong-un Says North Korea Covid Outbreak Is A "Great Disaster"

The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un has said that the country's rapidly spreading Covid-19 outbreak is a "great disaster", after the country's first admission in two years to having a problem with the pandemic.

Employees disinfect a Pyongyang supermarket in October last year
Employees disinfect a Pyongyang supermarket in October 2021

Kim Jong-un held an emergency meeting on Saturday and called for an all-out battle to tackle the spread of the virus. The meeting came after officials on Thursday announced the first confirmed cases in the country - however, experts believe that the virus has likely been circulating around North Korea for some time.

North Korea has a population of 25 million and is potentially extremely vulnerable to a major Covid-19 outbreak due to the poor healthcare system and lack of a vaccination program, many fear that the virus spreadly around the country could result in dire consequences.

North Korea has very limited testing capabilities so most Covid cases are unconfirmed. State media reported on Saturday that there had been over 500,000 cases of unexplained fever in the last few weeks.

This figure marked a major increase in the numbers that were given on both Thursday and Friday, potentially providing some indication of the scale of the outbreak in North Korea.

The official KCNA news agency quoted Kim Jong-un as saying: "The spread of the malignant epidemic is the greatest turmoil to fall on our country since the founding."

He added that the crisis was due to medical incompetence and bureaucratic reasons, he said that lessons could be learned from how neighbouring countries dealt with the outbreak, such as China.

Kim Jong-un holds an emergency meeting on May 12 in response to the Covid-19 outbreak
Kim Jong-un held an emergency meeting on May 12 in response to the Covid-19 outbreak

The admission to the spread of the virus on Thursday marked the end of two years of North Korea claiming to be completely Covid free.

The country had previously claimed to have controlled Covid by closing its borders early in January 2020 and subsequently rejecting offers from the international community to supply millions of Chinese-made and AstraZeneca jabs last year.

North Korea shares land borders with China and South Korea, both of which have had huge problems caused by Covid, China is currently struggling to contain an Omicron wave of the virus with lockdowns ongoing in its largest cities.

Kim Jong-un was seen wearing a face mask for the first time on TV on Thursday during a meeting outlining new Covid rules.

The country's leader ordered "maximum emergency" virus controls, which include local lockdowns and restrictions on people gathering in workplaces.

South Korea has claimed they offered humanitarian aid after the announcement on Thursday, but Pyongyang is yet to respond.

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