Alone with a Virus

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North Korea confirmed its first Covid-19 cases Thursday, two years after the isolated nation had insisted it was virus-free, NBC News reported.

State-controlled media said that test samples collected this week showed that an unspecified number of people were infected with the omicron variant of the virus. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un then imposed a series of anti-virus measures, including a lockdown on all cities and counties.

Since the pandemic began, North Korea had claimed that it had no virus cases and refused vaccine offers from China, Russia and the Covax vaccine-sharing program.

But health analysts have remained skeptical of the country’s claims and warned that the population of 26 million could be unprotected against the coronavirus.

Scientists say the omicron variant is highly transmissible, even as its fatality rate is much lower than other variants. Still, they emphasized how this low fatality rate is partly because of inoculation and immunity acquired from past infections.

Analysts warned that the country risks a full-blown outbreak, which could exacerbate North Korea’s battered economy and worsen the food shortages that Kim had warned about last year.

North Korea took a very strict approach to containment at the start of the pandemic, closing its borders and stopping almost all trade with China, its main economic partner. It said such measures worked.

Some countries did not report cases of the virus until well into the pandemic, particularly remote island nations in the Pacific. Currently, the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan claims to be virus-free, even as many health analysts remain skeptical.

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