North Korea fears Covid outbreak after Kim Jong-un admits ‘grave incident’

North Korea fears Covid outbreak after Kim Jong-un admits ‘grave incident’
Kim chastised party members for neglecting antivirus efforts during a ‘global health crisis’, though the country still has not confirmed a single Covid case itself

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has replaced several senior officials after he slammed top governing party officials for an unspecified “grave incident” related to Covid-19 that could possibly see North Korea admitting its first virus cases.

At an emergency meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of North Korea on Tuesday, Mr Kim accused senior officials of incompetence and irresponsibility in planning and executing Covid-related measures that could lead to “grave consequences” in the country.

“By neglecting important decisions of the party in its national emergency antivirus fight in preparations for a global health crisis, officials in charge have caused a grave incident that poses a huge crisis to the safety of its people, and entailed grave consequences,” the state-run KCNA news agency reported Mr Kim as saying.

North Korea has imposed strict border restrictions since the start of the pandemic but has claimed to not have a single confirmed case of coronavirus, despite its long and porous land border with China.

In its latest report to the WHO, North Korea maintained the claim, saying they tested more than 30,000 people without detecting a single case.

The country also pulled its athletes out of the Tokyo Olympic Games amid fears that they could be exposed to the virus and end up bringing it to the country.

The KCNA report did not elaborate on what caused the lapse or if the shakeups in the party were related to the incident of negligence.

Mr Kim called fora more fierce party-wide campaignagainst fault lines and negative elements as he criticised party workers in “strong terms” for “braking and hindering the implementation” of Covid measures, the report said.

South Korea sounded alarm over Mr Kim’s reprimand to his part members in Pyongyang, saying Seoul needs to monitor follow-up reports from the neighbouring country, reported the Yonhap news agency.

This comes as the country is facing one of the worst economic crises in its history, with the shortages of food and medicines and a looming crisis of rising unemployment amid strict quarantine controls.

Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul, said Mr Kim’s scathing remarks indicate that health conditions could be already deteriorating inside the country.

He said it could also be political preparations for accepting vaccines from abroad as the country has stopped short of allowing foreign aid.

“Kim will likely find scapegoats for the incident, purging disloyal officials and blaming their ideological lapses. This may provide Pyongyang justification for demanding that citizens hunker down more,” Mr Easley said.

“Up to this point, the Kim regime has doubled down on international isolation during the pandemic. It is unfortunate there are so few diplomats and aid workers from other countries currently in North Korea," ele adicionou.

North Korea is entitled to ask for vaccines under the UN’s Covax programme to provide equitable access to all countries. But Covax officials say efforts to provide doses to North Korea have stalled due to the regime’s lack of responsiveness.

Tuesday’s politburo meeting was held 11 days after the country had a much-publicised four-day plenary session of the Workers’ Party, for the third time this year.

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