Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un KCNA/via REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday ordered the military be used to stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang as the country battles its first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak, Reuters reported, citing state media.

North Korea said on Friday that six people died and nearly 190,000 are under quarantine following a rapid spread of fever across the nation in recent weeks.

The report came a day after the country acknowledged for the first time that a COVID-19 outbreak had been recorded in the country. North Korea had long insisted it had no single case of the virus on its territory, but that claim was being questioned by outside experts.

The COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea has caused experts to raise concerns that the virus could devastate a country with limited medical supplies and no vaccine program.

At an emergency politburo meeting, held on Sunday, Kim criticized the "irresponsible" work attitude and organizing and executing ability of the Cabinet and the public health sector, state news agency KCNA reported.

The government had ordered the distribution of its national medicine reserves but Kim said the drugs procured by the state are not reaching people in a timely and accurate manner through pharmacies, the report said.

Kim ordered that the "powerful forces" of the army's medical corps be deployed to "immediately stabilize the supply of medicines in Pyongyang City."

On Sunday, the country reported 392,920 more people with fever symptoms and eight new deaths, though it did not specify how many of those suspected cases had tested positive for COVID-19.

In April of 2020, several months after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Kim disappeared from the public eye for several weeks, leading to speculations about his health. Among other things, it was speculated that he was in hiding due to fear of the coronavirus.

North Korean media subsequently published photos of Kim attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at a fertilizer factory.

In July of that year, Kim placed the city of Kaesong near the border with South Korea under total lockdown after a person was found with suspected COVID-19 symptoms.