North Korea has fired three short-range ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast, according to South Korea’s military.
The short statement sent to reporters on Thursday came hours after North Korea announced the country’s first-ever cases of COVID-19, more than two years after the start of the pandemic.
The suspected launch from the Sunan area of North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, also came two days after the inauguration of South Korea’s hawkish new President Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul.
Yoon’s office said it immediately convened a meeting of its national security council.
Even though there has been no official statement by North Korea, the office of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also confirmed the launch.
“More updates to follow,” it said in a Twitter post.
A projectile appeared to fall outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said.
The launch is likely the nuclear-armed country’s 16th weapons test so far this year.
North Korea also conducted what South Korea and Japan said were two separate ballistic missile tests in the week before Yoon’s inauguration, although Pyongyang did not confirm the launches.
Despite biting international sanctions over its weapons programmes, North Korea has dramatically ramped up testing this year while ignoring the United States’s offers of talks.
Earlier on Thursday, North Korea confirmed its first-ever COVID-19 infections and declared a “serious emergency”.
Its state broadcaster said Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un had “called on all the cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down their areas” with factories, businesses and homes closed down and reorganised “to flawlessly and perfectly block the spread vacuum of the malicious virus”.
The announcement raised fears of a humanitarian disaster in the unvaccinated country.
North Korea has repeatedly rejected offers of vaccines from the United Nations-backed global vaccination initiative, and aid workers have warned that it would struggle to handle a major coronavirus outbreak, given its dilapidated health system.