North Korea sees Covid as a threat to its struggling economy and Kim Jong Un's rule, Cheong added.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said a "grave" situation stemming from quarantine negligence has created a crisis, hinting at Covid risks that could affect his rule after his regime has denied it has had any infections.
There were no details of the nature of the incident in the report from the state's official Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday. Kim said through dereliction of duty, cadres neglected executing important decisions for prolonged national quarantine efforts, "creating a great crisis in ensuring the security of the state and safety of the people," KCNA reported.
"He seriously pointed out that chronic irresponsibility and incompetence of cadres at present bring artificial difficulties to the implementation of the Party's policies and become a major brake doing tremendous harm to the development of the revolutionary work," according to the report.
Even though North Korea says it has no cases of the coronavirus -- a claim doubted by U.S. and Japanese officials -- it has taken drastic quarantine steps that have worsened the regime's economic woes, including closing the border with its biggest trade partner, China. Covid-19 brings a large risk to the impoverished state, whose antiquated medical systems could easily be overwhelmed by an infection wave.
"It would be a bit hasty to make any definitive conclusions based on the KCNA report, given it lacked in detail. But North Korea has been particularly sensitive about the pandemic as it lacks testing kits and medical facilities," said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Unification Strategy Studies Program at Sejong Institute near Seoul.
North Korea sees the virus as a threat to its already struggling economy and Kim's rule, Cheong added.
North Korea's economy, which suffered its worst contraction in decades last year, is on track to barely grow in 2021 as the country struggles with the pandemic, border restrictions with China and international sanctions to punish it for nuclear-weapons testing, Fitch Solutions said in April.
Pyongyang has taken strong action after incidents that could expose the country to the virus. About a year ago, Kim's regime locked down the border city of Kaesong out of fear a person who defected from South Korea may have carried the virus. It investigated the military unit responsible for patrols and pledged to "administer a severe punishment," to those responsible, its official media said.
About two months after that in an incident near a nautical border, North Korean personnel shot a man who worked for South Korea's fisheries ministry and burned his body at sea. He was apparently treated that way because the North Korean personnel believed he could have been a carrier of the coronavirus, Yonhap News Agency cited a South Korean military official as saying at the time.
Adding to the Covid risks, North Korea has received no vaccine doses through Covax, according to Gavi, the nonprofit group that delivers immunizations. "Work is ongoing and discussions continue," it said in a statement in June.
North Korea was supposed to receive 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca Plc shot by the end of May, but shipments were delayed after North Korea was unwilling to follow Covax instructions and rules, Japan's Kyodo News reported.
North Korea is eligible to receive vaccines through the program backed by the World Health Organization, but it has shown hesitancy. During the pandemic, the country's small international contingent of foreign officials and residents dwindled as it put pressure on them to leave. The Kim regime could see risks in bringing in more people from the outside world to deliver vaccines.
The country's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, expressed doubt about vaccines in an article in June, saying they "may not be able to protect people from the virus spreading or new strains of the virus."
The news on the quarantine incident follows a rare report on state TV last week that touched on Kim's health, a move that may be designed to generate sympathy as the country deals with food shortages and an economic downturn. North Koreans broke down in tears over seeing a dramatically thinner Kim, state TV cited a citizen as saying.
- With assistance from Jeong-Ho Lee.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)