Seoul, South Korea –
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered preventive measures to be eased just three months after an outbreak was confirmed, claiming the country’s widely disputed success would be recognized as a global health miracle.
Korea’s official North Central News Agency also reported on Thursday that Kim’s sister said her brother had developed a fever and blamed leaflets flown across the border from South Korea for the North Korean outbreak while warning of deadly retaliatory measures.
Some experts believe North Korea manipulated the scale of the outbreak to help Kim retain absolute control of the country amid mounting economic troubles. They believe the declaration of victory signals Kim’s intention to move on to other priorities, but are concerned that his sister’s remarks constitute a provocation.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing its deep regret at North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” based on “ludicrous claims” about the source of its infections.
Since North Korea admitted an Omicron outbreak of the virus in May, it has reported about 4.8 million cases of “fever” among its population of 26 million, but identified only a fraction of those as COVID-19. It has been claimed that the outbreak has been slowing for weeks and only 74 people have died.
“Since we started conducting the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), the daily fever cases, which reached hundreds of thousands in the early days of the outbreak, have been reduced to below 90,000 a month later and are steadily decreasing, and not a single case of fever suspected of being linked to the nasty virus has been reported since July 29,” Kim said in his speech on Wednesday during a national meeting he called to discuss a new pandemic – announce reaction.
“For a country that has not yet administered a single vaccination, our success in overcoming the spread of the disease in such a short time and restoring public health safety and restoring our nation to a clean virus-free zone is an astounding miracle that would go down in world public health history,” he said, according to KCNA.
Kim’s declaring victory against COVID-19 suggests he wants to move on to other priorities, such as studying internationally at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
South Korean and US officials said North Korea could be preparing for its first nuclear test in five years amid its torrid streak of weapons tests this year, which included the first ICBM demonstrations since 2017.
The provocative testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over protracted negotiations aimed at using its nuclear weapons for much-needed sanctions relaxation and security concessions, experts say.
Kim Jun-rak, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday the South Korean military remains prepared and prepared for “various possibilities” of North Korean provocations.
Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong’s bellicose rhetoric is worrying because it suggests she will try to blame the South for the resurgence of COVID-19 and also seeks to justify North Korea’s next military provocation, Easley said.
North Korea first hinted in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had been in contact with objects carried by balloons flown from South Korea – a questionable and unscientific claim that appeared to be an attempt to blame its rivals make.
For years, activists have flown balloons over the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets criticizing Kim, and North Korea has often expressed anger at the activists and the South Korean leadership for failing to stop them.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong reiterated those claims, calling the country’s virus crisis a “hysterical farce” orchestrated by South Korea to escalate the confrontation. She claimed her brother suffered from symptoms of a fever and praised his “energetic and careful leadership” for performing an “epochal miracle” in the fight against COVID-19.
“(South Korean) puppets are still throwing leaflets and dirty objects into our territory. We have to face that hard,” she said. “We have already considered various countermeasures, but our countermeasure must be deadly retaliation.”
Kim Yo Jong’s reference to Kim Jong Un’s illness was not further explained.
North Korean state television showed some members of an audience of thousands crying as she spoke about her brother’s alleged fever. The crowd applauded and cheered as they vowed that the North would “eradicate not only the virus but also the (South Korean) government agencies” if the “enemies continue dangerous actions that could introduce the virus to our republic.”
The coronavirus is spread by people in close contact who breathe airborne droplets, and experts agree that spreading the virus from surfaces is virtually impossible. North Korea’s outbreak was thought to have spread when the country briefly reopened its border with China to cargo traffic in January, and increased further after a military parade and other major events in Pyongyang in April.
In May, Kim banned inter-city and inter-county travel to slow the spread of the virus. But he also stressed that his economic goals should be met, which led to large groups continuing to gather at agricultural, industrial, and construction sites.
At the virus meeting, Kim called for the easing of preventive measures and urged the nation to maintain vigilance and effective border controls, citing the spread of new coronavirus variants and monkeypox around the world.
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