The alleged “grave incident” in the secretive country’s pandemic fight was highlighted in the report on Wednesday from the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

North Korea has claimed to have had no cases of coronavirus infections throughout the pandemic – despite testing thousands of people and sharing a porous border with its ally and economic lifeline China, where the first Covid-19 cases were confirmed in late 2019.

KCNA said Mr Kim made the comments during a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party that he called to discuss the anti-virus failures.

It said Mr Kim criticised senior officials for supposed incompetence, irresponsibility and passiveness in planning and executing anti-virus measures amid a lengthening pandemic.

The KCNA paraphrased Mr Kim as saying: “In neglecting important decisions by the party that called for organisational, material and science and technological measures to support prolonged anti-epidemic work in face of a global health crisis, the officials in charge have caused a grave incident that created a huge crisis for the safety of the country and its people.”

While North Korea has told the World Health Organisation it has not found a single coronavirus infection after testing more than 30,000 people, experts widely doubt its claim of a perfect record, considering the country’s poor health infrastructure and ties to China.

From the start of the pandemic, North Korea described its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence”, banning tourists, jetting out diplomats and severely curtailing cross-border traffic and trade.

The lockdown has further strained an economy already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions over the country’s nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Kim during a political conference earlier this month called for officials to brace for prolonged Covid-19 restrictions, indicating that the country is not ready to open its borders anytime soon despite its economic woes.

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