North Korean leader Kim Jong-un says the spread of the coronavirus has plunged the country into "great turmoil," calling for an all-out battle to overcome the epidemiological crisis.
Kim made the comments on Saturday after 21 new daily deaths, expected to be due to the COVID-19, were reported in the country despite a stringent nationwide lockdown, according to North Korea's official news agency KCNA.
"The spread of the malignant epidemic is a great turmoil to fall on our country since the founding," Kim told an emergency meeting of North Korea’s ruling Workers' Party.
"But if we don't lose focus in implementing epidemic policy and maintain strong organization power and control based on single-minded unity of the party and the people and strengthen our epidemic battle, we can more than overcome the crisis."
The KCNA said the Workers' Party meeting heard reports of about 280,810 people being treated and 27 deaths since a fever of unidentified origins was reported starting in late April.
The North Korean leader said the health crisis had been caused by the incompetence and irresponsibility of party organizations, but transmission was not uncontrollable and the country must have faith in its battle to overcome the crisis in the shortest possible period.
Kim offered to donate medical supplies, which had been kept in his household, to be used by families that are experiencing particular hardship "with his resolution to always share the destiny with the people.”
KCNA cited Kim as saying that health officials must learn from the experience of other advanced countries, including China's accomplishments in fighting the epidemic.
North Korea had reported no cases since the start of the pandemic two years ago, which raised the possibility of a lack of rigorous testing or treatment campaign in the country.
Given North Korea's limited testing capabilities, the latest figures probably represent a fraction of total cases and could lead to thousands of deaths in a country without a vaccination campaign, according to experts. The outbreak could also deepen an already dire food situation in the country.
North Korea has not reported on the possible source of the outbreak.