Pressure on the North Korean economy has been exacerbated by the orderly closure of borders to combat the pandemic.
“It is important to take a decisive step in addressing the day-to-day needs of the people,” Kim Yong Un said in a statement, according to the official North Korean news agency KCNA.
The North has seen its biggest economic recession in two decades in 2020, according to South Korea’s central bank.
The communist leader acknowledged in June that his country was facing a “tense food situation”.
In October, a United Nations human rights expert warned that the most vulnerable were “threatened by famine.”
The leader, who succeeded his father Kim Jong Il ten years ago, said at his party’s meeting that fighting the pandemic is one of the main goals for next year.
“Emergency measures against the epidemic must be placed at the forefront of national priorities and implemented firmly (…) without the slightest weakness, deviation or failure,” he said.
In his speech, he did not mention the United States or South Korea directly, saying only that Pyongyang would continue to strengthen its military capabilities.
“The increasingly unstable military environment in the Korean Peninsula and the international situation require the strengthening of national defense capabilities,” Kim Jong Un was quoted as saying by KCNA, which did not provide further details.
The pandemic’s deteriorating economic situation has not stopped Pyongyang from developing its arms program, according to a United Nations report released in October.
Negotiations with the United States are at a standstill since the failure of the 2019 meeting between Kim Jon Un and then-US President Donald Trump.