Kim Jong Un seen in mask as North Korea confirms COVID deaths
Al Jazeera

Kim Jong-un, the supreme leader of North Korea, has described the state of coronavirus infections in the country as a “great disaster” according to local media, as Covid continues to spread rapidly across the nation.

The politician’s remarks on Saturday come after state-controlled media KCNA claimed the first cases of coronavirus in North Korea on Thursday. The comments have been met with scepticism from health experts and analysts.

KCNA said: “There has been the biggest emergency incident in the country, with a hole in our emergency quarantine front that has been kept safely over the past two years and three months since February 2020.

“The state epidemic prevention work shall be switched over to the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system.”

In other words, Kim ordered a national lockdown in an attempt to control the outbreak of the virus, which is the BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron variant.

Authorities said that about 18,000 people had reported Covid symptoms, while 162,200 people have so far been treated.

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However, hours after announcing the public health crisis, North Korea returned to testing its military capabilities - launching three ballistic missiles near the capital of Pyongyang towards its east coast.

The test, the country’s 16th this year, was reported by Seoul, the capital of its neighbour, South Korea.

It was also confirmed by Japan’s defence ministry, which refused to provide any details.

Kim has previously said the first mission of North Korea’s nuclear force is to “deter war”, but that it would “have no choice but to carry out its second mission” if anyone tried to “take away the fundamental interests of our country”.

On Friday – a day later - 21 deaths were confirmed, with North Korea having a largely unvaccinated population.

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