Kim Jong-un on Monday ordered the deployment of the North Korean military to help distribute medicines and supplies in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

According to state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the Supreme Leader criticised his country’s pandemic response before ordering the military to get to work “on immediately stabilising the supply of medicines in Pyongyang,” where omicron cases were detected last week after the country reported its first-ever COVID-19 case since the pandemic began two years ago.

Kim said that the inadequacy of medicine distribution is “because officials of the Cabinet and public health sector in charge of the supply have not rolled up their sleeves, not properly recognizing the present crisis,” as per KCNA.

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The Supreme Leader also “strongly criticised the Cabinet and public health sector for their irresponsible work attitude,” KCNA reported.

With the country struggling to contain the outbreak, Kim, who had earlier called the outbreak a “great disaster,” has taken it upon himself oversee proceedings, and is reportedly attending near-daily emergency politburo meetings in a bid to devise a strategy to contain the outbreak that is fast spiralling out of control.

Although North Korea is referring to said cases as “fever,” something that may be influenced by the country’s lack of testing capabilities, reports suggest that the coronavirus has now infected more than a million people since late April 2022.

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As of May 15, North Korea reported 50 deaths and 1,213,550 cases of “fever.” Among these cases, more than half a million are reportedly under treatment in isolation while the rest, presumably, have recovered.

Although Pyongyang had earlier turned down offers by Beijing as well as the United Nations-backed Covax initiative for vaccine distribution, both Beijing and Seoul have offered to help Pyongyang combat the crisis.

Experts say that North Korea is ill-equipped to handle the outbreak and is likely to seek international help sooner rather than later.