North Korea has acknowledged having a coronavirus case for the first time since the pandemic began, with state-run media reporting Thursday that the country had detected the highly contagious Omicron variant in a sample collected in Pyongyang earlier this month.
The ruling Workers' Party of Korea declared that the "maximum emergency" virus control system should be implemented, according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
KCNA said leader Kim Jong Un called a meeting of the party's Politburo on Thursday and instructed officials to thoroughly block all cities and counties across the nation while boosting measures to curb the outbreak.
The news agency also quoted Kim as saying that North Korea will take steps to continue production and agricultural activities.
Later in the day, Korean Central Television broadcast footage showing Kim wearing a protective face mask at the gathering.
The report of the first virus case came as North Korea is believed to be preparing for its seventh nuclear test or the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which could be capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to anywhere in the continental United States, in the near future.
Kim said at the meeting, "More dangerous enemy of us than the malicious virus are unscientific fear, lack of faith and weak will," KCNA reported.
He "underscored the need for the public health sector and the emergency epidemic prevention sectors to strictly conduct intensive examinations of all the people" and "take proactive measures for medical observation and treatment," the news agency said.
In South Korea, the administration of conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol, who took office on Tuesday, has indicated its willingness to offer humanitarian aid to the North, including COVID-19 vaccines.
During the presidential campaign, Yoon pledged to put more pressure on North Korea in tandem with its security ally, the United States.
North Korea has blocked its borders with China and Russia since early 2020 to prevent the intrusion of the coronavirus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
Freight train operations between North Korea and China resumed in January after a plunge in bilateral trade apparently dealt a heavy blow to North Korea's economy, making it more difficult for its people to receive adequate food and daily necessities.
Trade between the countries in 2021 plummeted around 90 percent from 2019 before the pandemic started. China is North Korea's closest and most influential ally economically, accounting for more than 90 percent of its trade.
China, however, said late last month that it had suspended freight train operations with North Korea again amid the spread of the virus in the Chinese border city of Dandong.
North Korea is seen as being vulnerable to infectious diseases due largely to chronic shortages of food and medical supplies due to economic sanctions aimed at thwarting Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.
Foreigners were barred from entering North Korea during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014.