North Korea officially confirmed its first outbreak of COVID-19 on Thursday and ordered a national blockade, and state media reported that a subvariant of the virus with a high degree of Omicron transmission was detected in Pyongyang.

“The country has experienced the biggest emergency with a hole in our emergency quarantine front, which has been safely stored for the last two years and three months since February 2020,” the official KCNA news agency reported.

The report said people in Pyongyang became infected with the Omicron variant without giving details of the number of cases or possible sources of infection.

Samples of the infected were taken on May 8, the report said.

The report was released at a time when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un chaired a meeting of the Working Party to discuss measures in response to the first coronavirus outbreak.

Kim ordered all cities and counties to “strictly close” their regions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and said that medical supplies would be mobilized for emergency care, according to KCNA.

Although the North has never confirmed any coronavirus infection in the country, South Korean and United States officials have raised doubts, especially since cases of the Omicron variant have been widely reported in neighboring South Korea and China.

North Korea has refused to supply vaccines from the global COVAX vaccine exchange program against COVID-19 and the Sinovac Biotech vaccine from China.

Kim said at a Labor Party meeting that the goal of the latest emergency quarantine system is stable control and management of the coronavirus spread and prompt treatment of infected people to eliminate the source of transmission as soon as possible, KCNA said.

A South Korean website that tracks activities in Pyongyang said this week that residents were told to return home and stay home because of a “national problem” without offering details.

Earlier on Thursday, Chinese state television reported that North Korea had required its residents to stay home since May 11 because many of them have “suspected flu symptoms,” not referring to COVID-19.

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