On Thursday, the North Korean news agency said, Mr. Kim called for national unity at a time of state emergency, telling his people that a “more dangerous enemy of us than the malicious virus are unscientific fear, lack of faith and weak will.”
He urged his country to continue to push forward with the bold five-year economic development plan he unfurled during a Workers’ Party congress in January last year. Under that plan, North Koreans have been building residential districts in the capital and greenhouse complexes in provinces.
For Pyongyang to publicly admit to having Covid-19 cases, the public health situation had to have been serious, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international relations at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“The worsening coronavirus situation is a serious challenge for Kim Jong-un, not only in terms of limiting infections, deaths and food disruptions,” Mr. Easley said. “Kim has credited strict social controls and self-imposed international isolation with keeping North Korea safe from Covid. If those signature measures fail, it could be a blow to regime legitimacy.”
The epidemic control measures that North Korea enforced on Thursday could further restrict the traffic of people and goods between towns and factories, and disrupt supplies and production, said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in South Korea.
If North Korea fails to bring the outbreak under control, it “could face a serious food crisis and the kind of great confusion we have seen in China recently,” Mr. Cheong said, referring to the severe difficulties created by the draconian restrictions that China has imposed on major cities like Shanghai in recent weeks.
Analysts questioned whether the Covid outbreak would affect Mr. Kim’s plan to restart nuclear tests. American and South Korean officials have warned in the past week that North Korea could resume such tests as soon as this month, possibly around the time that President Biden is scheduled to meet with South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, in Seoul on May 21.