Kim Jong Un Lashes Out at Officials for Allowing COVID-19 to Compromise State Security

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lashed out at officials for allowing the coronavirus to create a "great crisis" that has compromised state security, state media said.

According to Kim, senior officials "neglected the implementation of the important decisions of the party on taking organizational, institutional, material, scientific and technological measures as required by the prolonged state emergency epidemic prevention campaign," the Korean Central News Agency reported.

This "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."

North Korea has not officially reported any COVID-19 infections. The state media did not say what prompted Kim to call this meeting, but experts told the Associated Press that North Korea could be dealing with major setbacks due to the coronavirus.

"It's clear that something significant happened and it was big enough to warrant a reprimanding of senior officials," Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification told the AP. "This could mean mass infections or some sort of situation where a lot of people were put at direct risk of infections."

North Korea COVID-19
A pupil has her temperature taken as part of anti Covid-19 procedures before entering the Pyongyang Secondary School No. 1 in Pyongyang on June 22, 2021. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lashed out at senior officials for allowing the coronavirus to create a "great crisis" that has compromised state security, the state media reported. KIM WON JIN/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

The report also said the party recalled an unspecified member of the Politburo's powerful Presidium, which consists of Kim and four other top officials.

The reference indicated Kim may replace his Cabinet Premier Kim Tok Hun, who would be held responsible for failures in the government's anti-epidemic work, Hong said.

"There is no possibility that North Korea will ever admit to an infection — even if there were mass transmissions, the North will definitely not reveal such developments and will continue to push forward an anti-virus campaign it has claimed to be the greatest," Hong said.

Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea's private Sejong Institute, expressed a similar view, saying North Korea is potentially dealing with huge virus-related problems in border towns near China, such as Sinuiju or Hyesan. He said the Presidium member Kim Jong Un sacked could possibly be Jo Yong Won, a secretary of the Workers' Party's Central Committee who had been seen as a fast-rising figure in the leadership circle.

But other experts said Kim could be responding to illicit border trade that defied his lockdown measures or setting the stage for a political shakeup or purge to solidify his grip on power as he navigates perhaps the toughest time of his nine-year rule.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said it had no immediate information to share about the North Korean report and that it wouldn't make prejudgments about the country's virus situation.

Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, raised the possibility of helping North Korea in the event of a major outbreak of COVID-19.

"China and the DPRK have a long tradition of helping each other when they encounter difficulties," Wang said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"If necessary, China will actively consider providing assistance to the DPRK."

From the start of the pandemic, North Korea described its anti-virus efforts as a "matter of national existence," banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and severely curtailed cross-border traffic and trade. The lockdown has further strained an economy already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over the country's nuclear weapons program.

Kim during a political conference earlier this month called for officials to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, indicating that the country isn't ready to open its borders despite its economic woes.

North Korea has told the World Health Organization it has not found a single coronavirus infection after testing more than 30,000 people, including many described as having fevers or respiratory symptoms.

North Korea's extended border controls come amid uncertainties over the country's vaccination prospects. COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million doses in the first half of the year, but the plans have been delayed due to global shortages.

Kim Jong Un COVID-19
In this June 15, 2021. file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a Workers' Party meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim ripped into senior ruling party and government officials over what he described as a serious lapse in national efforts to fend off COVID-19. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Wednesday, June 30, 2021 that Kim made the comments during a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, which he called to discuss a “grave incident” in anti-epidemic work that he said created a “huge crisis” for the country and its people. Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP