North Korea conducted its 16th known weapons test, just hours after declaring a “gravest national emergency” and ordering a national lockdown.

North Korea reported more than 350,000 suspected cases in addition to the 18,000 new cases, recognizing the pandemic for the first time. Six deaths have been reported, with one confirmed to have Omicron BA.2. The exact number of confirmed cases still remains unknown.

Following its first COVID-19 outbreak, North Korea reportedly launched three ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Thursday. Around 17:30 on March 24, three short-range ballistic missiles were launched from Pyongyang’s Sunan area, which also has an international airport (0930 GMT). The missiles traveled 360 kilometers (224 miles) at Mach 5 and at an altitude of 90 kilometers.

Despite the fact that US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-han to protest the latest launch as a violation of UN sanctions, the US military stated that it did not pose an immediate threat to the US or its allies. Sullivan and Kim are said to have talked about US Vice President Joe Biden’s upcoming visit to South Korea. From May 20 to 24, Biden will travel to South Korea and Japan.

There is concern that North Korea will resume nuclear testing, which has been halted since 2017. According to US and South Korean officials, it could happen this month. The missiles traveled 350 kilometers and reached a maximum altitude of 100 kilometers before falling outside Japanese territorial waters, according to Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.

This is South Korea’s first launch since conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol took office this week, signaling a firm stance against North Korean weapons development. Yoon’s national security office condemned Pyongyang’s “dubious behavior” in firing ballistic missiles while ignoring its people’s plight during a COVID outbreak, but stated that humanitarian aid would not be linked to political differences, and during his confirmation hearing, the new president’s nominee for minister responsible for inter-Korean relations stated that he would prepare humanitarian aid for Pyongyang, including COVID treatment, syringes and other medicine.

Some believe such help may restart North Korean negotiations. However, a White House National Security Council official indicated that the US had no plans to supply vaccinations with North Korea, which has repeatedly denied COVAX global vaccine sharing project donations.

To fund its illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs, the government continues to exploit its own people and siphon resources away from the people of the country. According to officials, Pyongyang has closed its borders and rejected foreign aid offers.

Some believe that such humanitarian assistance could help restart North Korean talks. According to a White House National Security Council official, the US has no plans to supply vaccinations to North Korea, which has repeatedly refused donations to the COVAX global vaccine sharing project.

The United Nations expressed “concern” about reports of a COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea.

UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq stated that the UN was ready to assist. He stated that North Korea already had approximately 11 million people in need of humanitarian aid, and he emphasized the importance of allowing international employees, including the UN Resident Coordinator, to enter, as well as continuing unhindered humanitarian supply entry.

The US State Department condemned the latest launch, reaffirming its commitment to diplomacy with North Korea and urging Pyongyang to resume talks.

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