North Korea confirmed its first deaths from COVID-19 as tens of thousands experienced fever symptoms, according to BBC News.

This news comes a day after the country declared a “major national emergency” after identifying its first case of COVID-19.

Driving the news: An estimated 187,000 people with a fever are being treated in isolation, while at least six have died after having contracted the omicron variant, per BBC.

Where did the cases come from? The Korean Central News Agency reported that the cases came from members of an unidentified organization in Pyongyang, who were tested by officials after reporting symptoms of the virus, The New York Times reported.

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  • It is confirmed that they are infected by the BA.2 subvariant of the omicron variant, per The New York Times. The Korean news agency did not say if officials knew how the virus might have entered the country.
  • A number of cases or a source of the infection has not been reported, according to Reuters.

State of play: The country spent the entire duration of the pandemic rejecting outside offers of vaccines, according to an Associated Press report. It is one of two countries without a vaccine. (The second is Eritrea.)

  • The Korean news agency also reported via NPR that Kim Jong Un called for a complete lockdown of all cities and counties, stating that workplaces should be isolated by units to stop the spread of the virus.
  • Kim also called for “tightened vigilance along all of the country’s land and sea borders, and at its air and sea ports,” according to The New York Times.

What are experts saying: “North Korea, with a huge immunity gap — no protection acquired with vaccines or prior infections — is an open field for uncontrolled transmission, which maximizes the odds of new variants,” said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, per The Washington Post.

  • Add to that the chronic storage of medicine and medical equipment, “North Korea may end up with the pandemic’s worst death and infection rates in the world for its population size,” unless other countries decide to help, said Kim Sin-gon, a professor at Seoul’s Korea University College of Medicine, per AP.

Worth noting: White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked on Thursday whether the White House will try to get vaccines to North Korea, to which Psaki replied: “The United States does not currently have plans to share vaccines with the DPRK.”

  • “We do continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans,” she added.

What else?: Reporter Zang Qing posted a video from Pyongyang on Friday, relaying his experiences on the ground, per CNN.

  • “As far as we know, not many people in Pyongyang have been vaccinated, and the medical and epidemic prevention facilities are in short supply,” he said in a Weibo post.
  • “Because the capital is in lockdown, the food I have at home is only enough for a week. We are still awaiting what policy the government will announce next.”