North Korea has tested-launched another ballistic missile, South Korea has said, making it the 16th weapon tested so-far this year.
The rocket was fired towards the sea off North Korea’s east coast on Thursday, Seoul announced, and said it is analysing the launch to work out exactly what was tested.
It is the latest in a flurry of weapons tests as Kim Jong Un attempts to restart a missile programme that paused during nuclear negotiations with Donald Trump that ultimately came to nothing.
And it comes just hours after a mask-wearing Kim declared North Korea’s first official case of coronavirus and ordered the whole country into lockdown and declared a ‘severe national emergency’.
North Korea test-launched a ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast today, hours after Kim Jong Un confirmed the country’s first official Covid case
Kim chaired an emergency meeting of the country’s top politburo to announce a country-wide lockdown to stamp out cases of Omicron
The country is widely thought to have suffered waves of coronavirus before now, but has never acknowledged an outbreak before or officially imposed lockdown.
North Korea has no known vaccine programme, making it population particularly vulnerable to infectious variants such as Omicron.
State-run KCNA news agency said samples taken from patients sick with fever in Pyongyang on Sunday were ‘consistent’ with the Omicron variant.
The country’s top officials held a politburo meeting to discuss the outbreak and announced they would implement a ‘maximum emergency’ virus control system.
KCNA said Kim told the meeting that ‘the goal was to eliminate the root within the shortest period of time.’
‘He assured us that because of the people’s high political awareness … we will surely overcome the emergency and win the emergency quarantine project,’ it said.
Kim called for tighter border controls and lockdown measures, telling citizens ‘to completely block the spread of the malicious virus by thoroughly blocking their areas in all cities and counties across the country,’ KCNA said.
All business and production activities will be organised so each work unit is ‘isolated’ to prevent the spread of disease, it added.
Despite the decision to elevate anti-virus steps, Kim ordered officials to push ahead with scheduled construction, agricultural development and other state projects while bolstering the country’s defence postures to avoid any security vacuum.
North Korea is widely thought to have suffered Covid outbreaks before now, but has never officially confirmed having a case
Pyongyang has implemented strict health measures before due to Covid (pictured, in November) but has never gone into a full-scale lockdown
North Korea also appears to be pushing ahead with its weapons testing despite the outbreak, having already conducted a host of tests earlier this year.
The most-recent launch before today was a submarine-launched ballistic missile, which it has been aggressively developing in recent years and tested on Saturday.
Perhaps the most eye-catching test was back in March, when Pyongyang tested the Hwasong-17 – its longest-range ICBM ever created.
The weapon, designed to carry nuclear warheads, flew 3,880 miles almost straight upwards before crashing back down 680 miles from where it was launched around 71 minutes later.
If fired on a standard trajectory it could range at least 8,000 miles, putting almost the entire planet including the whole of the United States within reach.
Believed to be about 82 feet long, the Hwasong-17 is the North’s longest-range weapon and, by some estimates, the world’s biggest road-mobile ballistic missile
The test brought to an end a moratorium on long-range tests negotiated by Trump and crossed what was previously a red line for the US.
South Korea’s military responded with live-fire drills of its own missiles launched from land, a fighter jet and a ship, underscoring a revival of tensions.
It said it confirmed readiness to execute precision strikes against North Korea’s missile launch points as well as command and support facilities.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, requested an open Security Council meeting on the launch while the White House also imposed fresh sanctions on individuals and entities linked to the missile programme.