The lockdown followed the suspension of overland trade between North Korea and China in late April due to a surge in Covid cases in the Chinese border provinces of Liaoning and Jilin.
Railroad freight traffic between the North Korean town of Sinujiu and China’s Dandong had tentatively reopened in January after Kim Jong-un’s regime forced the country into two years of strict isolation to stop the pandemic from crippling the already weak healthcare system.
But the blocking of commerce with the North’s largest trade partner China further shocked an economy that had been damaged by decades of mismanagement and punitive international sanctions to curb Kim’s nuclear weapons and missile programme.
Despite being surrounded by Russia, China and South Korea, all of which have experienced major Covid surges in recent months, North Korea has remained one of the only countries in the world not to pursue a vaccine programme and has rejected multiple offers of aid from both the United Nations and China.
Pyongyang is suspected of shunning vaccines offered by the UN-backed COVAX distribution programme because those have international monitoring requirements.
The reclusive regime is facing crises on multiple fronts. A serious lack of rainfall threatens to disrupt farming and food supplies with the country’s main weather broadcast, warning that the “current spring drought” is the second-worst since records began in 1941.
KCNA said that despite alarm over the Omicron spread, Kim ordered officials to push ahead with scheduled construction, agricultural development and other state projects, decreeing that “the single-minded public unity is the most powerful guarantee that can win in this anti-pandemic fight.”