Kim Jong-un has berated top officials over lapses which caused an unspecified “great crisis” related to Covid-19, report North Korean state media.
It was a rare sign of the pandemic’s severity in North Korea, which previously insisted it had no Covid cases – a claim doubted by experts.
North Korea has closed its borders to keep out the virus.
Coupled with continued international sanctions, this has led to food shortages and a worsening economy.
Mr Kim had previously admitted there was a “tense” food situation and has told citizens to prepare for the “worst-ever” outcome, invoking comparisons to the country’s deadly 1990s famine.
Earlier this week, state television aired a rare remark by a citizen commenting on Kim’s “emaciated” look, who has visibly lost some weight in recent photos.