Analysts questioned whether the Covid outbreak would affect Mr. Kim’s plan to restart nuclear tests. American and South Korean officials have warned in the past week that North Korea could resume such tests as soon as this month, possibly around the time that President Biden is scheduled to meet with South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk-yeol, in Seoul on May 21.
They also wondered whether North Korea would change its policy of not accepting any pandemic-related humanitarian aid, including vaccine donations from world health organizations. South Korean officials have hoped that humanitarian shipments, including Covid-19 vaccines, could help restart the stalled dialogue between North Korea and the United States and allies.
Mr. Easley, of Ewha Womans University, said North Koreans might be less interested in nuclear or missile tests when the most urgent threat involved the coronavirus rather than a foreign military. But, Mr. Cheong said, “If anything, the North Korean leadership will likely try to boost the morale of the people in the wake of the outbreak through nuclear or missile tests.”
Along with North Korea, Turkmenistan and several small island nations such as Tuvalu and Nauru had reported having no coronavirus cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Still, the North had enforced some of the world’s harshest restrictions to keep the virus out.
In 2020, it created a buffer zone along its border with China, issuing a shoot-to-kill order to stop unauthorized crossings, according to South Korean and US officials. Also that year, when a man from South Korea defected to the North, North Korea declared a national emergency for fear he might have brought in the virus. He was also accused of shooting a South Korean fisheries official found adrift in its waters and burning his body for fear of the virus.
North Korea has also been extremely hesitant to use the Covid vaccine. It is not known to have imported any doses. The country is also believed to be one of only two nations in the world not to have begun a Covid-19 vaccination initiative, though news reports have suggested that some key people, such as the top leadership elites, may have been vaccinated.
Mr. Kim himself has never appeared in public wearing a mask. All officials who attended the Politburo meeting on Thursday wore them — except for Mr. Kim, according to photos released by North Korean state media.