North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has strongly criticized his Cabinet for not providing medicines to citizens according to their needs, state-run media reported Monday, as suspected coronavirus cases continue to explode in the country.
The Korean Central News Agency said more than 392,900 new cases of fever were reported during a 24-hour period through late Sunday afternoon, an increase of over 90,000 from the previous day, with eight new deaths.
North Korea has reported over 1.21 million cases of fever and 50 deaths in total since confirming its first COVID-19 case on Thursday, more than two years after the pandemic began.
To stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang, Kim issued an order as chairman of the party's Central Military Commission to bring in "the military medical field of the People's Army," according to the report.
In Seoul, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol expressed a willingness to support North Korea with necessary medical supplies and medicines, including vaccines, to help it battle the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, if North Korea chooses to accept them.
According to the country's Korean Central Television, at least 168 people had been confirmed infected with the virus as of late Saturday afternoon, including 42 in Pyongyang.
COVID-19 test kits and treatment drugs are likely in short supply in North Korea. Kim's public criticism of his Cabinet could be a sign popular discontent may be expected to grow amid the virus surge.
South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported Sunday that North Korea recently asked China for COVID-19 supplies and equipment. The report could signal earnest efforts by the North to source medicines from outside the country.
At an emergency meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea on Sunday, Kim "strongly criticized the Cabinet and public health sector for their irresponsible work attitude and organizing and executing ability," KCNA said.
Saying that medicines provided by the state had not reached people through pharmacies "correctly in time," Kim said officials in charge of supply were "not properly recognizing the present crisis but only talking about the spirit of devotedly serving the people."
The report also said that despite an order for the immediate release and supply of medicines from the state reserve to swiftly contain the spread of infections, medicines have not been properly supplied to pharmacies.