(Bloomberg) – Kim Jong Un may be preparing to launch an ICBM to coincide with U.S. President Joe Biden’s trip to the region, CNN reported, while the North Korean leader battles a Covid-19 outbreak that will be his regime confronted.

Kim appears to be gearing up to prepare to test launch an ICBM in the next two to four days, the cable news channel said, citing a US official familiar with the latest intelligence assessment. North Korea’s ICBMs are scheduled to deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland, and the country fired one in March for the first time in more than four years – highlighting the achievement in a cleverly produced video shown on state television.

Kim chaired a Politburo meeting over guidelines for containing an outbreak that his government said has infected about 1.7 million people and killed 62 in recent weeks, the official Korean Central News Agency reported on Wednesday. The top leadership also rebuked officials who “have not properly handled matters in the current health crisis due to lack of experience,” it said.

The coronavirus crisis is one of the biggest tests for Kim’s leadership since he took power a decade ago. Its propaganda apparatus has tried to shift the blame for the outbreak onto lower-level officials, while its country demonstrated its military might to remind its people of its strength in the face of a flare-up that could destroy its antiquated medical system.

Biden will embark on a trip starting Friday that will take him to South Korea and Japan to try to coordinate with US allies on security threats like North Korea, while seeking their involvement in a new economic grouping to unify supply chains strengthen way that reduces dependence on China.

North Korea has ignored offers of Covid-19 aid from South Korea and others, and its isolated country, along with Eritrea, is one of only two in the world not to have launched a vaccination program against the virus, according to the United Nations.

Pyongyang appears to have sent a plane to China, its biggest benefactor, to pick up medical supplies in recent days, NK News and Yonhap news agency reported.

The country is even more vulnerable after rejecting vaccines. The United Nations Food Aid Agency estimates that around 40% of the population is malnourished, which could increase the impact of the virus.

Kim’s regime has not labeled the hundreds of thousands of infections as “Covid,” likely because the country does not have enough testing kits to confirm the cases were caused by the coronavirus.

©2022 Bloomberg LP

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