North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scolded senior governing party officials on Wednesday for shortcomings in anti-epidemic efforts that resulted in an undefined “great crisis” and jeopardised the country’s and people’s safety.
The article by the state news agency KCNA did not go into detail about what transpired or how it put people in danger.
North Korea has not publicly verified any COVID-19 cases, an allegation that South Korean and US authorities have questioned. However, the remote country has enforced stringent anti-virus measures, such as border closures and domestic travel restrictions.
Kim called a meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea politburo to address some party executives’ neglect of duty, including failing to implement important long-term measures to fight the pandemic, KCNA said.
“He mentioned that senior officials in charge of important state affairs neglected the implementation of the important decisions of the Party … and thus caused a crucial case of creating a great crisis in ensuring the security of the state and safety of the people and entailed grave consequences,” the report said.
Several politburo members, central committee secretaries, and officials from other state agencies were removed during the meeting, however KCNA did not say if the changes were linked to dereliction of pandemic-related duties.
According to Harvard Medical School’s Kee B. Park, who has worked on health care initiatives in North Korea, North Korea has considered the protection of its people from the coronavirus as a matter of national survival, and anti-pandemic choices are taken by some of its most senior authorities.
“The main objective of North Korea’s strategy is to prevent the virus from even getting into the country while simultaneously strengthening its treatment capabilities as well as acquiring vaccines,” he said.
North Korea’s all-of-government, comprehensive approach and the repeated holding of large-scale public gatherings suggest that the country may have prevented any major outbreak, Park said.
“However, the success comes with steep cost to its economy and increased vulnerability for the poorest of the population,” he added.
Last year, North Korea said it had declared a state of emergency and locked down the border city of Kaesong after a person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned across the fortified border with what state media said were symptoms of COVID-19.
The World Health Organization later said North Korea’s coronavirus test results for the man were inconclusive.