• AFP-JIJI, Reuters


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned top party officials of “serious consequences” if they fail to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus, state media reported Saturday.

The impoverished nation, with a weak and ill-equipped health care system, has closed its borders to prevent the spread of the disease into its territory.

Kim told a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea that the fight against the virus is a “crucial state affair for the defense of the people” that requires maximum discipline, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

“In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

Two senior officials — party vice chairmen Ri Man Gon and Pak Thae Dok — had been fired and a party unit had been disbanded for corruption, the report said, indicating that they may have been involved in graft linked with measures against the international epidemic.

“No special cases must be allowed,” he added, ordering officials to “seal off all the channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way.”

Pyongyang has not reported a single case of COVID-19 so far but has banned tourists, suspended international trains and flights and placed hundreds of foreigners in quarantine to prevent an outbreak. It has also reportedly postponed the new school term.

A plan is underway to evacuate some 60 quarantined foreign diplomats, including from Germany, French and Switzerland, CNN reported on Friday. It also said other countries with diplomatic missions were seeking to scale down their operations.

With loudspeakers blaring hygiene messages, ambassadors locked in their compounds, and state media demanding “absolute obedience,” North Korea’s measures against the coronavirus have been described as “unprecedented” by diplomats.

Germany’s ambassador to the United Nations has said that the Security Council would adopt humanitarian exemptions to the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its weapons programs, and allow the export of equipment to help North Korea fight the coronavirus.

But “the problem is that right now the North Koreans closed the borders,” Christoph Heusgen said on Thursday after a closed-door Security Council meeting about the reclusive state.

The members of the Security Council called on North Korea “to allow this equipment in. So the population can be protected,” he added, without elaborating on the type of equipment.

In a separate report, KCNA said Kim had overseen military drills on Friday, a rare public outing amid efforts to prevent the outbreak.

On Feb. 16, Kim made his first public appearance in 22 days to visit a mausoleum marking the anniversary of the birth of his father and late leader, Kim Jong Il.

The military drill was to “judge the mobility and the fire power strike ability” on the frontline and eastern units and ended to a “great satisfaction” of Kim, KCNA said.

“Soldiers, who have firmly armed themselves with a-match-for-a-hundred idea of the Party and trained under the simulated conditions of actual battles, reduced a target islet to a sea of flames,” KCNA said.

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