According to a government notification cited by Seoul-based NK News on Wednesday (Jan. 25), authorities in the North Korean capital Pyongyang have imposed a five-day lockdown owing to an increase in cases of unidentified respiratory sickness.

The website noted on Tuesday that it looked like residents of Pyongyang were stockpiling products ahead of more stringent regulations. It is unknown if other regions of the nation have implemented fresh lockdowns.

The statement did not specifically mention COVID-19, but according to NK News, which monitors North Korea, it warned that city residents must remain inside their homes through the end of Sunday and must submit to temperature checks several times daily.

The first COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea was reported last year, but by August, the virus had been proclaimed eliminated. The secretive nation never disclosed the number of COVID-19 cases, supposedly because of a lack of resources for broad testing.

Instead, it listed the daily total of patients with fever, which, out of a population of around 25 million, reached 4.77 million. But since July 29, there have been no similar incidents reported. It declared victory despite having no known vaccination program in place. Lockdowns, domestic medical procedures, and what Kim called the "advantageous Korean-style socialist system" were instead used, according to the nation.

State-run media have kept up their coverage of anti-pandemic measures to combat respiratory illnesses like the flu, but they haven't yet covered the lockdown order.

The city of Kaesong, which is close to the border with South Korea, reportedly strengthened public awareness campaigns on Tuesday "so that all the working people observe anti-epidemic regulations voluntarily in their work and life." state news agency KCNA said.

Experts say Covid is likely causing problems in the capital of North Korea. Go Myong-hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, claimed that "Covid is disappearing and reappearing depending on the temperature, not just in North Korea but around the world."

China, a neighbor of North Korea and a significant trading partner, recently abandoned its zero-Covid rules and struggled to contain an outbreak of diseases that overflowed hospitals and crematoriums. Since the beginning of the pandemic, North Korea has maintained a strict blockade, but it does permit some trade with China. 

Experts have long disputed Pyongyang's Covid figures and assurances that the outbreak has been contained, including the World Health Organization. According to experts, North Korea has one of the poorest healthcare systems in the world, with underfunded hospitals, few intensive care units, and no COVID treatment options.