North Korea's state media warned on Tuesday of the prospect of a lengthy battle against the coronavirus, saying vaccines developed by global drugmakers were proving to be "no universal panacea".
The country has not officially confirmed any infections, although South Korean officials have said an outbreak there cannot be ruled out, as the North had trade and people-to-people links with China before shutting its border early last year.
The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the ruling Workers' Party, said the pandemic was only worsening, despite the development of vaccines.
"Novel coronavirus vaccines introduced competitively by various countries were once regarded as a glimmer of hope for humanity that could end the fight against this frightening disease," it added.
"But the situations in many countries are clearly proving that the vaccines are never a universal panacea," it said, citing news reports of rising numbers of new cases overseas and safety concerns.
It urged people to brace for a protracted pandemic, describing it as an "inevitable reality" that called for efforts to toughen anti-virus measures and foster loyalty to leader Kim Jong Un and his party.
North Korea was expected to receive nearly two million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine by the first half of this year, via the COVAX sharing programme.
But last month Edwin Salvador, the World Health Organization (WHO) representative for the North, said the shipment was delayed over supply shortages, citing the GAVI alliance, according to South Korean media.
In a comment to Reuters, Salvador said North Korea was completing technical requirements required to receive the vaccines, but did not elaborate.
The GAVI alliance, which co-leads COVAX with the WHO, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.