The declaration follows the move to lift a coronavirus lockdown on the border town of Kaesong, with Kim saying that the three weeks of isolation had stabilized the pandemic situation, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. However, Kim refuses to accept any outside aid in combating either the pandemic or rebuilding parts of the country damaged by weeks of torrential rains.
The state-run KCNA reported that around 97,000 acres of crops were ruined nationwide, with around 16,600 homes and 630 public buildings destroyed or flooded. Kim expressed sympathy for people who have been relocated to temporary facilities after losing their homes in the flood.
“The situation, in which the spread of the worldwide malignant virus has become worse, requires us not to allow any outside aid for the flood damage but shut the border tighter and carry out strict anti-epidemic work,” KCNA paraphrased Kim as saying.
Experts say the pandemic likely thwarted Kim’s long-term goals of establishing clear economic self-reliance as the nation closed its border with China, the North’s major economic lifeline.
The two-pronged problem facing North Korea also indicates significant issues for South Korea’s hopes of restarting diplomatic discussions. Professor Leif-Eric Easley of Ewha University in Seoul said that the country had hoped to use financial aid to bring the North back into talks.
“The North Korean economy, while touting self-reliance, is increasingly dependent on China and will struggle to balance sanctions-busting efforts and COVID-19 prevention,” Easley said. “The job of North Korea’s new premier will be to show the country has recovered from recent flooding and has upgraded public health facilities” by the October party anniversary, he said.
North Korea has continued to sever virtually all cooperation with the South after talks stalled as part of a larger negotiation with the U.S. over nuclear capabilities, with neither nation budging over sanctions and disarmament steps.
In an email to The Associated Press last week, Dr. Edwin Salvador, the World Health Organization’s representative to North Korea, said the North has told the U.N. agency it quarantined 64 first contacts of the suspected Kaesong case and 3,571 secondary contacts in state-run facilities for 40 days.
Since the end of December, North Korea has quarantined and released 25,905 people, 382 of them foreigners, Salvador said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.