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North Korea enters “severe emergency” lockdown after confirming COVID case for first time

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has declared a “severe emergency incident” and launched a nationwide lockdown after announcing a person has tested positive for COVID-19, state media reports.

Why it matters: It’s the first time Pyongyang has publicly confirmed having a case in the country, though health experts have long raised doubts that it’s been unaffected by coronavirus infections. The isolated nation has no COVID vaccines, raising concerns it could become an epicenter of new variants, per the Washington Post.

What they’re saying: “There has been the biggest emergency incident in the country, with a hole in our emergency quarantine front, that has been kept safely over the past two years and three months since February 2020,” the state-run KCNA said in reporting on the detection of the highly transmissible Omicron sub-variant BA.2.

Flashback: In July 2020, state media reported that Kim declared another “maximum emergency” and ordered Kaesong City, near the border with South Korea, to be placed on lockdown due to a suspected COVID case.

The big picture: A United Nations report warned last October that North Korea’s strict pandemic measures that saw the country close its border to most visitors and nearly all trade for two years had caused the country “severe economic hardship.”

It had also exacerbated the food crisis in the isolated nation, putting children and elderly people at risk of starvation, according to the UN.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.