SIX people have reportedly died while 18,000 are still battling "fever" in North Korea after the country reported its first outbreak.
It comes after a day Kim Jong-un admitted Covid has infiltrated North Korea and plunged the entire country into a strict lockdown.
North Korea said Friday that six people who were sick with fever have died, with one of them testing positive for Covid-19, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
"A fever whose cause couldn't be identified explosively spread nationwide from late April… Six persons died (one of them tested positive for the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron,)" it said.
It added that a total of 187,000 people are currently being "isolated and treated" for fever which has "explosively spread nationwide" since late April.
Around 350,000 people have shown signs of that fever, including 18,000 who newly reported such symptoms on Tuesday alone, KCNA said.
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It comes after the masked Supreme Leader announced he was organising the "maximum" response measures after the Omicron variant was detected on May 8.
It is believed to be the first time he has ever been pictured donning a face covering – nearly two and a half years into the pandemic.
The outbreak has been dubbed the "gravest national emergency" by officials after infections were recorded in the capital Pyongyang.
Samples taken from people experiencing fevers found they were positive for a sub-variant of the Omicron strain, also known as BA.2.
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But the exact number of cases or potential sources of infection have not been disclosed by authorities.
No North Koreans are known to be vaccinated in the country after the country declined jabs and instead shut its borders.
A concerned Kim Jong-un tabled a meeting on Thursday of the ruling Workers' Party's no-nonsense politburo, ordering a "strict lockdown".
He said emergency reserve medical supplies have been mobilised as officials scramble to keep a lid on the number of infections.
State media said WPK officials "admitted" there had been a "breach" in North Korea's defence strategy that has been in place since 2020.
News agency KNCA said: "The state's most serious emergency has occurred.
"A break was made on our emergency epidemic prevention front that had been firmly defended until now."
Reports from Pyongyang suggest the city is facing shortages as people begin panic buying amid fears of a lengthy lockdown.
The worrying display of Kim wearing a disposable face mask is thought to have alarmed North Koreans further.
In past footage of similar government meetings and other events, every official except the Supreme Leader has worn a face covering.
The politburo criticised the country’s anti-epidemic sector’s "carelessness, laxity, irresponsibility, and incompetence".
They accused the experts of "failing" to promptly respond to an increased risk of infections and variants across the globe.
The cases in Pyongyang mark the first official Covid outbreak in North Korea since its borders were shut in early 2020.
The nation has never before formally confirmed infections.
Kim has enforced strict quarantine measures since the pandemic began in a bid to keep North Korea Covid-free.
Goods from China were subject to a month-long disinfection and quarantine process before all trade was suspended in April after a surge in cases.
The World Health Organisation said it has offered North Korea the opportunity to receive vaccines and to help put in place a deployment plan for jabs.
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Their latest data showed 64,207 of the country's 25 million people have received COVID-19 testing and all tested negative as of March 31.
The Omicron outbreak follows a significant spike in cases in South Korea throughout February and April this year.
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