Activist state

North Korea claims disputed victory over virus, blames Seoul

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In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shakes hands with a health official in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. Kim declared victory over the COVID-19 and ordered a relaxation of preventive measures. measures. Independent journalists were not allowed to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as supplied and cannot be independently verified. The Korean watermark on the image as provided by the source reads: “KCNA”, which is short for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

PA

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered the relaxation of preventive measures just three months after acknowledging an outbreak, saying the country’s widely disputed success would be recognized as a miracle of global health.

The official North Korean Central News Agency also reported on Thursday that Kim’s sister said her brother suffered from a fever and blamed the North Korean outbreak on leaflets stolen across the border from South Korea, while warning of deadly reprisals.

Some experts believe North Korea manipulated the scale of the outbreak to help Kim maintain absolute control over the country amid growing economic difficulties. They believe the declaration of victory signals Kim’s aim to move on to other priorities, but fear her sister’s remarks could portend a provocation.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing deep regret over North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” based on “ridiculous allegations” about the source of the incident. his infections.

Since North Korea admitted an outbreak of the omicron virus in May, it has reported around 4.8 million ‘cases of fever’ in its population of 26 million, but has only identified a fraction of them. like COVID-19. He claimed the outbreak had been slowing for weeks and only 74 people had died.

“Since we started carrying out the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), the daily fever cases which reached hundreds of thousands in the first days of the epidemic have been reduced to less than 90. 000 a month later and have continuously declined, and not a single case of fever suspected to be related to the evil virus has been reported since July 29,” Kim said in his speech Wednesday, according to KCNA.

“For a country that has yet to administer a single shot of vaccine, our success in overcoming the spread of the disease in such a short time and restoring public health security and making our country a clean and virus-free zone is an incredible miracle that would be recorded in global public health history,” he said.

For Kim, declaring victory against COVID-19 suggests he wants to move on to other priorities, such as stimulating a shattered and heavily sanctioned economy further damaged by pandemic border closures or conducting a nuclear test, Leif-said Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

South Korean and US officials have said North Korea may be preparing for its first nuclear test in five years amid its torrid series of weapons tests this year, which included its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017.

The provocative testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-running negotiations to leverage its nuclear weapons for sanctions relief and concessions. essential security, according to experts.

Kim Jun-rak, spokesman for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Thursday that the South Korean military remained firmly ready and prepared for “various possibilities” of North Korean provocations.

Bellicose rhetoric from Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, is concerning as it indicates she will try to blame any resurgence of COVID-19 on the South and also seeks to justify North Korea’s upcoming military provocation, said Easley.

North Korea first suggested in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had come into contact with objects carried by balloons from South Korea – a dubious and unscientific claim that seemed like an attempt to hold his rival accountable.

For years, activists have flown balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of Kim, and North Korea has often expressed its fury at activists and at South Korean leaders for not not have stopped them.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong reiterated those claims, calling the country’s virus crisis a “hysterical farce” launched by South Korea to escalate the confrontation. She claimed her brother suffered from fever symptoms and praised his “energetic and meticulous guidance” for bringing a “historic miracle” in the fight against COVID-19.

“The (South Korean) puppets are always pushing leaflets and filthy objects into our territory. We must counter it with firmness,” she said. “We have already considered various counter-action plans, but our counter-measure must be lethal retaliation.”

Kim Yo Jong’s reference to Kim Jong Un’s illness was not further explained.

Outside experts suspect the virus spread after North Korea briefly reopened its northern border with China to cargo traffic in January and spiked further after a military parade and other large-scale events in Pyongyang in April.

In May, Kim banned travel between cities and counties to slow the spread of the virus. But he also stressed that his economic goals must be met, which meant that huge groups continued to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites.

During the virus meeting, Kim called for the relaxation of preventive measures and for the nation to maintain vigilance and effective border controls, citing the global spread of novel coronavirus variants and monkeypox.