North Korea declares victory over COVID, suggests leader Kim had it

SEOUL, Aug 11 (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared victory over COVID-19 and his sister said he too had caught the virus, while vowing “deadly retaliation” against the South Korea, which the North blames for causing the outbreak.

Kim ordered the lifting of the maximum anti-epidemic measures imposed in May, while adding that North Korea must maintain a “steel strong anti-epidemic barrier and intensify anti-epidemic work until the end of the health crisis. world,” North Korea’s KCNA news agency reported on Thursday.

North Korea has never confirmed how many people have caught COVID, apparently because it lacks the means to carry out large-scale testing.

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Instead, it reported the daily number of patients with fever, a tally that rose to some 4.77 million. But it has not recorded any new such cases since July 29.

Kim made his statement in a speech Wednesday at a COVID policy meeting with thousands of unmasked officials seated inside, footage from state broadcasters showed.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, also addressed the rally and said the young leader himself suffered from fever symptoms, according to KCNA, indicating for the first time that he was likely infected with the virus. .

“Even though he was seriously ill with a high fever, he could not lie down for a moment thinking about the people he had to take care of until the end in the face of the anti-epidemic war,” he said. she said in remarks broadcast on North Korean state television.

Some of the officials present at the meeting were shown wiping away tears as she spoke about her brother’s illness.

She did not give details about Kim’s health, but blamed South Korean propaganda leaflets found near the border for causing the coronavirus outbreak.

For decades, North Korean defectors and militants from the South have floated balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets north, sometimes accompanied by food, medicine, cash and other items. Read more

Kim Yo Jong has criticized President Yoon Suk-yeol’s new South Korean government for seeking to lift a 2020 ban on leaflet campaigns, calling the South an “invariable main enemy”.

“We can no longer ignore the uninterrupted influx of trash from South Korea,” she said, threatening to “annihilate” South Korean authorities.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a meeting of the Workers’ Party political bureau on the country’s response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in this undated photo released by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) of North Korea on May 21, 2022. KCNA via Reuters

“Our countermeasure must be deadly retaliation.”

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles cross-border relations, regretted North Korea’s repeated “baseless allegations” about the origin of its COVID outbreak and its “crude and threatening remarks”.

Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup told reporters that North Korea’s accusation was “more likely an excuse for provocations.”

“FOSTERING UNITY”

Analysts said that although the authoritarian North has used the pandemic to tighten social controls, its declaration of victory could be a prelude to restoring trade hampered by the border lockdown. Read more

“The meeting seems mainly to promote unity among the people, but also could be to send a message to China that it is COVID-free and ready to restart trade,” Yang Moo-jin said, professor at the University of North Korea. Studies in Seoul.

Analysts also said easing restrictions could pave the way for the North to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.

North Korea’s official COVID death rate of 0.0016%, or 74 out of some 4.77 million, is an “unprecedented miracle”, its anti-virus chief Ri Chung Gil said at the meeting.

The World Health Organization has cast doubt on North Korea’s claims. Read more

“Whatever the truth behind the numbers, that’s the story being told to North Korean citizens. And right now, the numbers are telling them the outbreak is over,” said 38 researcher Martyn Williams. North Project based in the United States.

Like other countries, North Korea was likely balancing the need for control with public frustration over the restrictions, he said.

North Korea’s statement on COVID comes despite having no known vaccination program. Instead, he says he relied on lockdowns, domestically produced drugs and what Kim called the “beneficial Korean-style socialist system”.

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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith; Editing by Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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