North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown Thursday to control its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak after holding for more than two years to a widely doubted claim of a perfect record keeping out the virus that has spread to nearly every place in the world. The outbreak forced leader Kim Jong Un to wear a mask in public, likely for the first time since the start of the pandemic, but the scale of transmissions inside North Korea wasn't immediately known. A failure to slow infections could have serious consequences because the country has a poor health care system and its 26 million people are believed to be mostly unvaccinated. Some experts say North Korea, by its rare admission of an outbreak, may be seeking outside aid. Also read: WHO: COVID-19 falling everywhere, except Americas and Africa However, hours after North Korea confirmed the outbreak, South Korea’s military said it detected the North had fired three suspected ballistic missiles toward the sea. It was its 16th round of missile launches this year — brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiate sanctions relief and other concessions from a position of strength. The official Korean Central News Agency said tests of virus samples collected Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fevers in the capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with the omicron variant. In response, Kim called at a ruling party Politburo meeting for a thorough lockdown of cities and counties and said workplaces should be isolated by units to block the virus from spreading. He urged health workers to step up disinfection efforts at workplaces and homes and mobilize reserve medical supplies. Kim said it was crucial to control transmissions and eliminate the infection source as fast as possible, while also easing inconveniences to the public caused by the virus controls. He insisted the country will overcome the outbreak because its government and people are “united as one.” Despite the elevated virus response, Kim ordered officials to push ahead with scheduled construction, agricultural development and other state projects while bolstering the country’s defense posture to avoid any security vacuum. North Korea’s state TV showed Kim and other senior officials wearing masks as they entered a meeting room, although Kim removed his mask to speak into a set of microphones. Still photos distributed by KNCA showed Kim unmasked and sitting at the head of a table where all other officials remained masked. South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, couldn't immediately confirm whether it was the first time state media showed Kim wearing a mask since the start of the pandemic. Kim has previously spoken to huge crowds without a mask as he praised the country's earlier pandemic response, and his decision to be seen with a mask could be aimed at raising public vigilance. North Korea, which has maintained strict anti-virus controls at its borders for more than two years, didn’t provide further details about its new lockdown. But an Associated Press photographer on the South Korean side of the border saw dozens of people working in fields or walking on footpaths at a North Korean border town — an indication the lockdown doesn't require people to stay home, or it exempts farm work. Also read: North Korea raises alarm after confirming 1st COVID-19 case The measures described in state media and Kim’s declaration that economic goals should still be met could indicate that North Korea is focusing more on restricting travel and supplies between regions, analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at South Korea’s Sejong Institute said. North Korea’s government has shunned vaccines offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution program, possibly because they have international monitoring requirements. Seoul's Unification Ministry said South Korea is willing to provide medical assistance and other help to North Korea based on humanitarian considerations. Relations between the Koreas have deteriorated since 2019 amid a stalemate in nuclear negotiations and the North's increasingly provocative weapons tests. In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Beijing is offering North Korea help in dealing with the outbreak. North Korea has reportedly rejected previous Chinese offers of domestically developed vaccines. Kim Sin-gon, a professor at Seoul’s Korea University College of Medicine, said North Korea is likely signaling its willingness to receive outside vaccines, but wants many more doses than offered by COVAX to inoculate its entire population multiple times. He said North Korea would also want COVID-19 medicines and medical equipment shipments that are banned by U.N. sanctions. Omicron spreads much more easily than earlier variants of the coronavirus, and its fatality and hospitalization rates are high among unvaccinated older people or those with existing health problems. That means the outbreak could cause “a serious situation” because North Korea lacks medical equipment and medicine to treat virus patients and many of its people are not well-nourished, Kim Sin-gon said. Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focusing on health issues in North Korea, said North Korea’s admission of the outbreak is likely designed to press its people harder to guard against the virus as China, which shares a long, porous border with the North, has placed many of its cities under lockdown over virus concerns. North Korea will also likely stress lockdowns, although the experience of China’s “zero-COVID” policy suggests that approach doesn’t work against the fast-moving omicron variant, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University. “For Pyongyang to publicly admit omicron cases, the public health situation must be serious,” Easley said. North Korea’s previous coronavirus-free claim had been disputed by many foreign experts. But South Korean officials have said North Korea had likely avoided a huge outbreak, in part because it instituted strict virus controls almost from the start of the pandemic. Early in 2020 — before the coronavirus spread around the world — North Korea took severe steps to keep out the virus and described them as a matter of “national existence." It all but halted cross-border traffic and trade for two years, and is believed to have ordered troops to shoot on sight any trespassers who crossed its borders. The extreme border closures further shocked an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile program, pushing Kim to perhaps the toughest moment of his rule since he took power in 2011. North Korea had been one of the last places in the world without an acknowledged COVID-19 case after the virus first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 spread to every continent including Antarctica. Turkmenistan, a similarly secretive and authoritarian nation in Central Asia, has reported no cases to the World Health Organization, though its claim also is widely doubted by outside experts. In recent months, some Pacific island nations that kept the virus out by their geographic isolation have recorded outbreaks. Only tiny Tuvalu, with a population around 12,000, has escaped the virus so far, while a few other nations – Nauru, Micronesia and Marshall Islands – have stopped cases at their borders and avoided community outbreaks. North Korea's outbreak comes as China — its close ally and trading partner — battles its biggest outbreak of the pandemic. In January, North Korea tentatively reopened railroad freight traffic between its border town of Sinuiju and China’s Dandong for the first time in two years, but China halted the trade last month due to an outbreak in Liaoning province, which borders North Korea.
Shanghai city authorities said Wednesday they will start rounds of COVID-19 testing over the next few days to determine which neighborhoods can safely be allowed a limited amount of freedom of movement, as residents in Beijing watch carefully on word for whether the capital city will lock down. On Wednesday, China reported 14,222 new cases, the vast majority of which were asymptomatic. The country is battling its largest outbreak since the pandemic was first reported in Wuhan in late December 2019. Shanghai’s vice head of its health committee, Zhao Dandan, announced Wednesday that the city would begin another round of testing for city residents over the next few days to determine which districts were lower risk. Areas that have been declared to have achieved “societal zero COVID” could see some measure of limited freedom. Also read: Surprisingly low Shanghai COVID death count spurs questions The phrase, used by Chinese health authorities, refers to when new positive cases are only discovered in people who are already under surveillance, such as in centralized quarantine or those considered to be close contacts. At this point, they are considered to have broken off chains of transmission at the community level. Shanghai’s total lockdown has been in place for near a month, taking a toll on residents who have been confined to their homes. While a small, lucky portion of people have been allowed to leave their homes in the past week, the vast majority of people remain confined. The flow of industrial goods has also been disrupted by the suspension of access to Shanghai, home of the world’s busiest port, and other industrial cities including Changchun and Jilin in northeast China. Officials reported 48 deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total to at least 238 in the city. Meanwhile, the capital city Beijing is in the middle of mass testing millions of residents after cases were discovered over the weekend. The city reported 34 new cases Wednesday, 3 of which were asymptomatic. In the last couple of days, nervous Beijing residents had started stockpiling food and supplies, following Shanghai’s troubles where residents struggled to get a continuous and reliable supply of food while under lockdown. Beijing city officials were quick to promise that they were ensuring grocery stores would be well-stocked. They said they were monitoring the Xinfadi wholesale market, where the city gets the vast majority of its supply from, at a press conference Tuesday night. Demand has soared, with city residents sharing online lists of what to stock. Farms on the outskirts of Beijing told the official Beijing Daily News that April and May are typically when demand peaks. Compared to the same period last year, the number of orders rose 20%, owing to the demand generated by the epidemic, according to one major farm the paper interviewed. Also read: Shanghai reports 1st deaths from current COVID-19 outbreak Another farm said it was even more. “Starting from yesterday, the number of orders we’ve received have clearly increased, roughly double the amount at this time last year,” supply chain manager Zhang Xinming told Beijing Daily News. It is unclear whether the entire city will be forced under lockdown. For now, officials have locked down only specific areas where positive cases were found. On Wednesday, Beijing’s Tongzhou district suspended classes for all its schools from kindergarten through high school. Given that China for now remains committed to its “zero-COVID” approach, “I do think we will continue to see the use of these lockdowns across the country,” said Karen Grepin, a public health expert at the University of Hong Kong. “If anything, the omicron variant has made it more challenging to control the virus and thus more stringent measures are needed if the goal is to continue to strive for local elimination.” The “zero-COVID” strategy has worked well against previous versions of the virus, ensuring that for most of the past two years, people in China were able to live a mostly virus-free life.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said Tuesday that he and Treasury Chief Rishi Sunak will be fined by police for breaching COVID-19 regulations following allegations of lockdown parties at government offices. The news came after London's Metropolitan Police force said earlier Tuesday that they were issuing 30 more fixed penalty notices in relation to the “partygate” scandal, which has angered many in Britain and seen dozens of politicians and officials investigated over allegations that the government flouted its own pandemic restrictions. “The Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices,” a spokesperson for Johnson's office said. “We have no further details.” It was not clear how much Johnson and Sunak were fined. Johnson's wife, Carrie Johnson, also said she was notified that she will receive a fine, though she has not yet received any details about it. READ: Nuke plant attack: Johnson to seek UN Security Council meeting Johnson has denied any wrongdoing, but he is alleged to have been at half of the dozen events in his 10 Downing St. office and other government buildings that are being investigated by the police. Johnson’s government has been shaken by public anger over revelations that his staff held “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021 while millions in Britain were barred from meeting with friends and family because of his government’s COVID-19 restrictions. Thousands of people were fined between 60 pounds ($79) and 10,000 pounds ($13,200) by police for rule-breaking social gatherings. Opponents, and some members of the governing Conservative Party, have said for months that Johnson should resign if he is issued a fine for breaking rules he imposed on the rest of the country during the pandemic. “Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public," said Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party. “The Conservatives are totally unfit to govern. Britain deserves better.” Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for Parliament to be recalled for a vote of no confidence in Johnson. The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group said “there is simply no way” that Johnson or Sunak can remain in their jobs. “Their dishonesty has caused untold hurt to the bereaved," said the group's spokesman Lobby Akinnola. “Not only that, but they have lost all credibility with the wider public." In total, police say they were issuing at least 50 fines for the breaches, but did not identify who the recipients are. Police say they have sent questionnaires to more than 100 people, including the prime minister, and interviewed witnesses as part of the investigation. In January, civil servant Sue Gray published a report into some of the gatherings, the ones not under criminal investigation. She said “failures of leadership and judgment” in Johnson’s government allowed events to occur that should not have happened.
The COVID-19 outbreak in China’s largest metropolis of Shanghai remains “extremely grim” amid an ongoing lockdown confining around 26 million people to their homes, a city official said Tuesday. Director of Shanghai's working group on epidemic control, Gu Honghui, was quoted by state media as saying that the outbreak in the city was “still running at a high level." “The situation is extremely grim," Gu said. Also read:COVID-19 cases rise in Shanghai with millions under lockdown China has sent more than 10,000 health workers from around the country to aid the city, including 2,000 from the military, and is mass testing residents, some of whom have been locked down for weeks. Most of eastern Shanghai, which was supposed to reopen last Friday, remained locked down along with the western half of the city. Officials would reevaluate preventative measures after the results of tests on all city residents are analyzed, Gu said. “Before that, citizens are asked to continue following the current lockdown measures and stay in their homes except for medical and other emergency situations,” Gu said. Shanghai has reported more than 73,000 positive COVID-19 infections since the resurgence of the highly contagious Omicron variant in March. Shanghai recorded another 13,354 cases on Monday — the vast majority of them asymptomatic — bringing the city's total to more than 73,000 since the latest wave of infections began last month. No deaths have been ascribed to the outbreak driven by the omicron BA.2 variant, which is much more infectious but also less lethal than the previous delta strain. A separate outbreak continues to rage in the northeastern province of Jilin and the capital Beijing also saw an additional nine cases, just one of them asymptomatic. Workers shut down an entire shopping center in the city where a case had been detected. While China's vaccination rate hovers around 90%, its domestically produced inactivated virus vaccines are seen as weaker than the mRNA vaccines such as those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna that are used abroad, as well as in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao. Vaccination rates among the elderly are also much lower than the population at large, with only around half of those over 80 fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, complaints have arisen in Shanghai over difficulties obtaining food and daily necessities, and shortages of medical workers, volunteers and beds in isolation wards where tens of thousands are being kept for observation. Shanghai has converted an exhibition hall and other facilities into massive isolation centers where people with mild or no symptoms are housed in a sea of beds separated by temporary partitions. Gu said about 47,700 beds are available for COVID-19 patients, with another 30,000 beds to be ready soon. It wasn't clear how many beds were available for patients placed under observation, who number more than 100,000 according to city health authorities. Public outrage has been fueled by reports and video clips posted on the internet documenting the death of a nurse who was denied admittance to her own hospital under COVID-19 restrictions, and infant children separated from their parents. Circulation of footage showing multiple infants kept in cots prompted the city’s Public Health Clinical Center to issue a statement saying the children were being well looked after and had been in the process of being moved to a new facility when the footage was taken. At a virtual town hall Monday, the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai warned of possible family separations amid the lockdown, but said it had an “extremely limited ability” to intervene in such cases. Also read:China to back military-ruled Myanmar regardless of situation Concern is growing about the potential economic impact on China’s financial capital, also a major shipping and manufacturing center. Most public transport has been suspended and non-essential businesses closed, although airports and train stations remain open and the city’s port and some major industries such as car plants continue to operate. International events in the city have been canceled and three out of five foreign companies with operations in Shanghai say they have cut this year’s sales forecasts, according to a survey conducted last week by the American Chamber of Commerce. One-third of the 120 companies that responded to the survey said they have delayed investments. Despite those concerns and growing public frustration, China says it is sticking to its hardline “zero-tolerance" approach mandating lockdowns, mass testing and the compulsory isolation of all suspected cases and close contacts.
China on Friday ordered a lockdown of the 9 million residents of the northeastern city of Changchun amid a new spike in COVID-19 cases in the area attributed to the highly contagious omicron variant. Residents are required to remain at home, with one family member permitted to venture out to buy food and other necessities every two days. All residents must undergo three rounds of mass testing, while non-essential businesses have been closed and transport links suspended. The latest lockdowns, which also include Yucheng with 500,000 people in the eastern province of Shandong, show China is sticking to the draconian approach to the pandemic it has enforced for most of the past two years, despite some earlier indications that authorities would be implementing more targeted measures. China reported another 397 cases of local transmission nationwide on Friday, 98 of them in Jilin province that surrounds Changchun, a center of the country’s auto industry. In the entire province, cases have exceeded 1,100 since the latest outbreak first struck late last week. Just two cases were reported within Changchun itself on Friday, bringing its total to 78 in recent days. Authorities have repeatedly pledged to lock down any community where one or more cases are found under China’s “zero tolerance” approach to the pandemic. Read: How will COVID end? Experts look to past epidemics for clues Another 93 cases were confirmed in the nearby city of Jilin that bears the same name as the surrounding province. Authorities have already ordered a partial lockdown in the city and severed travel links with other cities. Officials of the Jilin Agricultural Science and Technology University have been sacked after a cluster of infections was reported on campus and students complained on social media that those who tested positive were being confined in school libraries and other buildings in poor conditions. The school has registered 74 confirmed cases and transferred more than 6,000 people to quarantine, according to state broadcaster CCTV. Read: How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed after two years? Aerial images showed students in hazmat suits lining up in the cold and dark waiting to be transferred.
The Bangladesh government has warned that it'll be forced to impose a full lockdown in the country if people fail to adhere to the recently issued Covid-19 restrictions. "We urge all the people of this country to abide by the recently issued 11-point Covid-19 guidlines," Health Minister Zahid Maleque said on Saturday. "If these instructions are followed, there will be no need for a lockdown in the country. If another lockdown is imposed, people and the country will face losses again," he said. He, however, made it clear that the government could impose a complete lockdown in Bangladesh "if these guidelines are not followed". The Health Minister was talking to reporters on the sidelines of the inauguration function of a CT scan and Dialysis unit at Manikganj General Hospital in the morning. Amid the growing concern over the new Omicron variant of to coronavirus, the government on January 13 came out with the restrictions on movement of people and public transport vehicles. Read:Don’t leave your workplaces: Health Minister to expats
Another lockdown is not a solution to prevent Covid infections, rather it increases the misery of low-income people and affects the country's trade and economy, said FBCCI President Md. Jashim Uddin on Wednesday. He came up with the remark while responding to a question at ‘Meet the Reporters program’ organised by Dhaka Reporters' Unity. Read: Increased capacity of Ctg Port to cut cost of doing business: FBCCI He urged people to abide by the restrictions imposed by the government to prevent the third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. “A lot of export orders are coming now. Fresh lockdown decision will actually disrupt the industry's growth and hurt the economy in the long run. The countries that resorted to lockdown suffered the worst,” he said. Addressing the programme, FBCCI president said the main obstacle to foreign investment was the lack of adequate infrastructures. But now, various development projects undertaken by the present government including Padma Bridge, Karnafuli Tunnel, Metrorail and 100 economic zones have created investment-friendly environment in the country, he said. Meanwhile, the FBCCI president urged banks to lend more to small and medium enterprises. “Bangladesh will face several challenges to protect local industries after the country’s graduation from LDC category. In order to face these challenges, it is important to have free trade agreements with different countries, said the FBCCI chief. The six blocks account for 90 percent of world trade, so FTA can be signed with six blocs - Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), European Economic Union, USA, EU, UK and African Continental Free Trade Agreement, said Jashim. He emphasized increasing the capacity of various ministries including the Ministry of Commerce to negotiate the post LDC challenges. FBCCI is going to set up an innovation center to enhance the capacity of the private sector, he said adding that this will accelerate research and development in various sectors. Read: FBCCI for harnessing promise of Bangladesh-Indonesia trade ties To enhance the FBCCI's own research capacity, 18 experts from various fields have been appointed as panel advisors, he said. The FBCCI will play a more effective role in formulating various policies based on their analysis and opinions. In order to address the post-transformation challenges of developing countries, Internal Resource Mobilization and Tariff Rationalization, Global Market Access 2021-2026 and Beyond, Investment Measures for Sustainable Inclusive Development and Sustainable Export Development, Subsidies and Incentives have been formulated. President of Dhaka Reporters Unity Md Nazrul Islam, General Secretary Nurul Islam Hasib and Organizing Secretary Abdullah Al Kafi were, among others, present.
The numbers are small, but the major port of Tianjin may be facing China’s first local outbreak of omicron of any size, less than a month before the Winter Olympics open in nearby Beijing. State broadcaster CCTV said the government has divided Tianjin and its 14 million residents into three levels of restrictions, starting with lockdown areas where people are not allowed to leave their homes at all. In control areas, each household is allowed to have one family member leave to buy groceries every other day, while in prevention areas, people must remain inside their immediate neighborhoods. Buses and trains from Tianjin to Beijing have been suspended and people are being told not to leave the city unless they have pressing business. The city began mass testing of all its residents on Sunday after a cluster of 41 children and adults tested positive for COVID-19, including at least two with the omicron variant. Officials said the virus has been circulating so the number of cases could rise. China has stepped up its strict zero tolerance strategy in the runup to the Olympics, which open Feb. 4. The Chinese capital is 115 kilometers (70 miles) northwest of Tianjin and many people regularly travel back and forth by car or on a high-speed rail link that takes less than one hour. Read: China orders lockdown of up to 13 million people in Xi’an Elsewhere, millions of people are being confined to their homes in Xi’an and Yuzhou, two cities that are farther away but have larger outbreaks traced to the delta variant. Residents of Xi’an have been under lockdown for more than two weeks, but the number of new cases in the city of 13 million fell to just 15 on Monday in a sign that restrictions could soon be lifted. Another 60 cases were reported Monday in Henan province, two of them of the omicron variant, found in the city of Anyang and apparently brought from Tianjin by a college student on Dec. 28, state media outlet The Paper reported. The provincial capital of Zhengzhou has been conducting mass testing and closed its schools. Another 24 cases were reported in the city on Monday. The first two cases confirmed in Tianjin were a 10-year-old girl and a 29-year-old woman working at an after-school center. Both were infected by the omicron variant. In subsequent testing of close contacts, 18 others tested positive and 767 tested negative as of Saturday night. Those infected include 15 students from 8 to 13 years old, the after-school center staff member and four parents. The citywide testing is to be completed over two days. Tianjin has also closed some subway stations on two lines to try to prevent further spread. Read: Netherlands 'going into lockdown again' to curb omicron China had reported about a dozen omicron cases previously, most among people who had arrived from abroad and were isolated. In one case in mid-December, the infection was not detected until after the person had completed two weeks of quarantine, and it spread to a few close contacts in the southern city of Guangzhou.
Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen on Sunday said the government is not thinking about lockdowns at this moment but will follow the same procedures keeping passengers limited in all types of transports. “We’ll reduce the number of passengers everywhere that we did during the earlier period. We’ll follow the same procedures. We’re not thinking of lockdown. The good news is that the fatality rate due to Omicron is very low. So, we’re not thinking of a lockdown,” he said. The Foreign Minister said they will discourage travels through Bangladesh-India border on health safety grounds. READ: Bangladesh seaweed is a goldmine waiting to be tapped: FM “Even, there’re travels through borders; there should be more health safety measures. Hopefully, we’ll be able to protect our people,” Dr Momen said. The Foreign Minister made the remarks while talking to reporters after the formal inauguration of booster Covid-19 vaccine doses for the diplomats stationed in Dhaka at Sheikh Russel Gastroliver Institute & Hospital in the city.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Saturday said the government does not want to impose any fresh lockdown right now but it might think about it if there is any unusual surge in the Covid-19 infection rate. “We don’t want any lockdown. But we’ve to maintain health protocols. The government will take tough measures to force people to maintain health protocols,” said the minister while talking to local journalists after attending a booster dose launching event at Manikganj Nursing College. The Covid situation is still better in Bangladesh despite the surge in cases worldwide driven by the new variant Omicron, said Zahid Maleque. “Already, oral Covid pills have reached the country’s markets. But these pills are not any alternative to vaccines. Those who have got infected with it have mild symptoms,” he added. The minister said the vaccination drive against Covid has already started at the ward level and it will be possible to administer at least 4 crore doses of Covid vaccine in January. Read: UK reports its first Omicron death “There’s no vaccine crisis in the country. Six crores more syringes have been imported from China to carry out the vaccination drive.” Director (Admin) of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr Samiul Haq, Deputy Commissioner Md Abdul Latif were, among others, present. Bangladesh logged four more Covid-linked deaths with 370 fresh infections in 24 hours till Saturday morning. With the detection of the fresh cases after testing 15,074 samples, the daily-case positivity rate slightly declined to 2.43 per cent from Friday’s 2.74 per cent during the period, said the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS). The fresh numbers reported on Saturday took the country’s total fatalities to 28,076 while the caseload mounted to 15,85,909. Meanwhile, the mortality rate remained static at 1.77 per cent during the period. Besides, the recovery rate declined to 97.69 per cent with the recovery of 203 more patients during the 24-hour period. Bangladesh reported daily Covid cases above 500 after two months. On October 13, the country logged 518 new Covid cases with 17 deaths. Meanwhile, three more Covid cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in Bangladesh, raising the total tally to seven, according to GISAID, a global initiative on sharing all influenza data, shared the results on Wednesday.