Kim Jong Un claims ‘victory’ over COVID, blames South Korea

North Korea’s leader lifted restrictions on the pandemic as senior officials described the 74 deaths as an ‘unprecedented miracle’ for global health.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared “victory” in his country’s fight against Covid-19 and ordered the lifting of pandemic restrictions imposed in May.

Presiding over a meeting with health workers and scientists, Kim declared “victory … in the war against the deadly pandemic,” state news agency KCNA reported Thursday.

His powerful sister Kim Yo Jong also spoke at the Pyongyang meeting and blamed the outbreak on anti-Pyongyang leaflets flown across the border by South Korean activists.

“We have to deal with it sternly,” she said. “We have already considered various countermeasures, but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one.”

The reclusive country, which has mostly closed its borders since the start of the pandemic in 2020, revealed in May that it was battling an Omicron-type outbreak and had imposed a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system”.

No new cases of the virus have been reported since July 29.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Eva University in Seoul, said the victory announcement was a sign that Kim Jong Un “wants to move on to other priorities, such as boosting the economy or conducting nuclear tests”. North Korea last conducted a nuclear test in 2017.

Easley added that Kim Yo Jong’s bellicose rhetoric was a concern “because not only will she try to blame any Covid resurgence on South Korea, but she is also trying to justify further military provocations by North Korea”.

At a meeting of health officials and scientists in Pyongyang, North Korea on Wednesday, Kim Jong Un declared victory over the virus and lifted pandemic restrictions. [Various sources via AFP]

Many analysts suspect that the coronavirus entered North Korea after the border with China briefly reopened to cargo in January and surged after military parades and other large-scale events in Pyongyang in April.

About 4.8 million “fever cases” have since been reported out of a population of 26 million. Only a fraction was identified as Covid-19 due to lack of test kits.

The official death toll stands at 74, according to KCNA, and a senior official called it an “unprecedented miracle” in global health.

The World Health Organization has cast doubt on North Korea’s claims, given the lack of independent data, the lack of any known vaccine program and the poor state of its health system.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, deplored Pyongyang’s “baseless claims” and Kim Yong Jo’s “rude and threatening remarks” as the cause of the outbreak.

Some experts say North Korea has manipulated the illness and death rate to help Kim Jong Un maintain his absolute leadership amid mounting economic difficulties due to a long-term border closure.

Kim Yo Jong said the North Korean leader himself had symptoms of fever.

“Even though he was seriously ill with a high fever, he could not sleep even for a moment thinking about the people he had to take care of till the end in the anti-epidemic war,” she said praising her. Bhava’s response to the outbreak.

Asked about Kim’s health, South Korea said it was unable to confirm anything.

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