But Kim, during a key ruling party meeting on Thursday, also insisted the North will keep its borders shut and rejected any outside help as the country carries out an aggressive anti-virus campaign and rebuilds thousands of houses, roads and bridges damaged by heavy rain and floods in recent weeks.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency also said Kim replaced Kim Jae Ryong as premier following an evaluation of the Cabinet’s economic performance and appointed Kim Tok Hun as his successor.
Entering the last year of an ambitious five-year national development plan, Kim Jong Un in December declared a “frontal breakthrough” against international sanctions while urging his nation to stay resilient in a struggle for economic self-reliance.
But experts say the COVID-19 crisis likely thwarted some of Kim’s major economic goals by forcing the country into a lockdown that shut the border with China — the North’s major ally and economic lifeline — and potentially hampered his ability to mobilize people for labor.
During Thursday’s meeting, Kim said it was clear after three weeks of isolation measures and “scientific verification” that the virus situation in Kaesong was stable and expressed gratitude to residents for cooperating with the lockdown, KCNA reported.
Kim said his country now faces a dual challenge of fending off COVID-19 amid a worsening global pandemic and repairing damage from torrential rain that lashed the country in past weeks.