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North Korea locks down capital city, Pyongyang, over respiratory illness

North Koreans pay their respects at the statues of former leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il for the Lunar New Year in Pyonyang. (File photo by AFP)

Authorities in North Korea's capital city, Pyongyang, have issued a health notice, ordering a five-day lockdown due to the increasing cases of an unspecified respiratory disease.

South Korean media reported on Wednesday that the notice did not mention COVID-19 but said that residents in the city were required to stay in their homes until the end of Sunday and submit to temperature checks multiple times each day.

NK News, which monitors the news regarding North Korea, reported that Pyongyang residents appeared to be stocking up on supplies ahead of the lockdown. It said that there was no particular news about health issues in the country's other cities.

In May 2022, North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un blasted the country's healthcare officials in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak. Kim "strongly criticized" the officials responsible for public health crisis management for what he called a botched response to epidemic prevention and failure to keep pharmacies open round the clock.

Back then, he ordered the army to immediately focus on stabilizing the supply of medicine in Pyongyang. By August, public health officials declared victory over the virus.

Meanwhile, there has been an unprecedented surge in coronavirus infections in neighboring China.

Several factories in the northeast of the country, where many North Koreans work, have had to stop operations because of infection clusters.

Media reports cited medical experts as saying that latest data suggests that some 80 percent of the Chinese population, more than a billion people, have been infected since China lifted its zero-COVID-19 policy measures in December last year as the nation approached a major public holiday to allow greater movement to and from the country.

Every year, hundreds of millions of people go back to their hometowns at this time to celebrate the Lunar New Year.

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