North Korea's Kim Jong Un Declares Emergency Because COVID-19 'Could Be Said to Have Entered the Country'

North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un has declared a state of emergency over what he said was the potential entrance of novel coronavirus into the country.

Kim convened on Saturday an emergency meeting of the political bureau of the ruling Korean Workers' Party Central Committee. The country is one of only about a dozen in the world that has not declared a single COVID-19 case, though new circumstances over the past weekend near the border city of Kaesong could reportedly affect this record.

"Amid the intensified anti-epidemic campaign for thoroughly checking the inroads of the world's threatening pandemic, an emergency event happened in Kaesong City where a runaway who went to the south three years ago, a person who is suspected to have been infected with the vicious virus returned on July 19 after illegally crossing the demarcation line," the official Korean Central News Agency reported Sunday.

The readout described "the dangerous situation in Kaesong City that may lead to a deadly and destructive disaster."

"Despite the intense preventive anti-epidemic measures taken in all fields throughout the country and tight closure of all the channels for the last six months, there happened a critical situation in which the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country," Kim was cited as saying, noting he has completely sealed off Kaesong City and isolated each district and region as of July 24.

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North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un convenes an emergency meeting of his ruling Korean Workers' Party Central Committee on July 25. Korean Central News Agency

Top politburo brass and members of the country's Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters attended the gathering in person, while senior officials from other institutions at state and provincial levels joined via video. Participants unanimously agreed "on shifting from the state emergency anti-epidemic system to the maximum emergency system," according to the report.

The individual suspected of bringing the illness into the country has been placed "under strict quarantine" after being administered a test with "an uncertain result." Authorities are attempting to track down all who came in contact with the person within the past five days in order to quarantine them as well.

The military unit on duty at the time of the border crossing is to be given "a severe punishment" pending an investigation into what occurred.

As of Sunday, the World Health Organization has not recorded any COVID-19 cases for North Korea, putting in a small group of nations also including only the fellow closed-off authoritarian Asian state of Turkmenistan, and the Asia-Pacific island countries of Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Pyongyang was notably among the first governments to seal its borders amid news earlier this year of a new coronavirus outbreak in China and intensive public health and security measures have been taken to prevent the disease from spreading throughout the country. Neighboring South Korea was among the first to observe clusters of the illness outside of China, and officials there now warn of a second wave from foreigners entering the country.

The potential entrance of a COVID-19-infected individual across the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas comes as a time of deteriorating ties between them. Peace talks launched by Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018 have unraveled as Pyongyang and Washington's own denuclearization-for-peace negotiations stalled and North Korean defectors have been accused of sending cross-border balloons equipped with anti-government leaflets and other subversive materials.

Last month, North Korea said it would cut all communication with its longtime rival and detonated their joint liaison office in a move into which South Korea has since opened an investigation. Much of this has been communicated by Kim Yo Jong, first vice director of the United Front Department of the Korean Workers' Party and sister of Kim Jong Un, who has only recently begun to appear in public with greater frequency following a spate of high-profile absences.

She also threatened to permanently shutter the two countries' industrial park in Kaesong. The factory complex has been closed for years as a symbol of the two nations' difficulty in establishing and maintaining common ground on core issues.

Moon has expressed a willingness to continue advancing inter-Korean ties, but the ruling Kim dynasty has accused him of being too close to the U.S. and unable to act independently from Washington. The South Korean leader has called for another summit between Trump and Kim before elections in November, though Pyongyang has showed little interest under the current conditions.