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Kim declares ‘shining victory’ over Covid in North Korea

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Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, speaks at a meeting of health officials and scientists in Pyongyang on Wednesday in this photograph released by the Korean Central News Agency. [YONHAP]
Kim Yo-jong, the influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, speaks at a meeting of health officials and scientists in Pyongyang on Wednesday in this photograph released by the Korean Central News Agency. [YONHAP]

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared a “shining victory” over Covid-19, while his powerful sister blamed the country’s outbreak on contaminated propaganda leaflets sent over the border from South Korea.

She also said that her brother contracted a high fever but it didn’t stop him from his duties.

Speaking at a Wednesday meeting of health workers and scientists in Pyongyang, Kim Jong-un extolled the country’s official death tally of 74 as an “unprecedented miracle in the history of the international health community,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Thursday.

“The victory gained by our people is a historic event that once again showed the world the greatness of our state, the indomitable perseverance of our people, and our proud national culture,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

His sister Kim Yo-jong, who serves as deputy director of the ruling Workers’ Party propaganda department, also spoke at the event and blamed the country’s outbreak on anti-regime propaganda leaflets flown over the border from South Korea by defectors and human rights groups.

She warned that Seoul could face “deadly” retaliation if it did not stop the leaflet dispatches.

Kim also claimed her brother had contracted a fever at one point but worked tirelessly to direct the country’s anti-virus campaign.

“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 of the anti-epidemic war,” she said.

North Korea, which shut its borders in January 2020 shortly after the virus was first reported in China, claimed until May this year that it had not recorded a single case of Covid-19.

Although it finally acknowledged a viral outbreak in May, it described suspected coronavirus infections as “fever symptoms” and positively confirmed only a fraction of them as Covid cases, possibly due to a lack of test kits.

External observers believe that mass rallies and parades marking key regime and military anniversaries in April and May could have contributed to the spread, particularly in Pyongyang, where the largest celebrations were held.  

One of the key holidays was April 15, observed in the country as the Day of the Sun, or the birth of leader Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, the founder of the regime Kim Il Sung. Another major holiday was April 25, which celebrates the founding of the North’s armed forces.

Because both holidays this year fell on the 110th and 90th anniversaries of the commemorated events, the Workers’ Party Politburo adopted a resolution in January decreeing that the festivities should be especially grand. The North has traditionally celebrated every fifth and 10th political anniversary with larger events.

Pyongyang has rejected outside offers of vaccines, but observers noted North Korean planes taking off from China during its initial outbreak period in May – a highly unusual occurrence given the country’s self-imposed blockade — which suggests the aircraft were carrying health supplies to help the regime cope with the spread of the virus.

The North has reported 4.8 million fever cases to date.

Calling the outbreak a “hysteric farce” started by the South, Kim urged a tough response to South Korean “puppets,” whom she said are “throwing leaflets and dirty objects into our territory.  

“We must be tough in countering it,” she said.

Kim’s comments could be the groundwork to justify another military provocation against South Korea.

South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials have warned for months that the North has completed all preparations for a fresh nuclear test, citing satellite imagery that shows the regime has completed construction work on tunnels leading to its underground nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri in the country’s mountainous North Hamgyong Province.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]

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