SEOUL, June 30 (UPI) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un criticized the "chronic irresponsibility and incompetence" of officials in carrying out government policies, leading to unspecified "grave consequences" in the country's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, state media reported on Wednesday.
Kim said that officials "neglected the implementation of the important decisions of the party" in their pandemic prevention campaign, which "create[ed] a great crisis in ensuring the security of the state and safety of the people and entailed grave consequences," according to the Korean Central News Agency.
Kim's remarks came at a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea on Tuesday, KCNA reported. Several high-ranking officials were recalled during the meeting, according to the report, although no names were provided.
North Korea maintains that it has had no cases of COVID-19, although outside experts have expressed doubts about the claim.
According to information reported to the World Health Organization, North Korea has tested 31,083 people for COVID-19 as of June 17, all of whom were negative. Over the period of June 11-17, 149 people were tested with "influenza-like illness and/or severe acute respiratory infections," the WHO report said.
The secretive state took early and extreme measures to prevent an outbreak, including sealing its borders in January 2020 and imposing severe restrictions on daily life that have led to many foreign diplomats and aid workers leaving the country.
Tuesday's politburo meeting was called to "roundly deal with some leading officials' dereliction of duty in implementing the major policy tasks of the party and the state, and to provide a fresh turning point in the personnel administration within the party," KCNA reported.
At the meeting, Kim cited the "lack of ability and irresponsibility" of officials and called for "conducting a more fierce party-wide campaign against ideological faults and all sorts of negative elements."
"[Kim] 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," KCNA reported.
North Korea has faced major economic hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic after closing its borders, cutting off trade by some 80% with its main partner, China.
The country has also continued to struggle under years of international sanctions over its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, while a series of typhoons last year caused flooding and major damage to buildings, roads and crops.
Earlier this month, Kim acknowledged that "the food situation is now getting tense" in North Korea due to agricultural shortfalls from the previous year. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization recently reported that North Korea was short 860,000 tons of food, and warned that the situation could worsen in August.