North Korea: Kim Jong Un declares 'victory' over Covid-19

His sister warns Seoul of retaliation over the outbreak



By AFP

Published: Thu 11 Aug 2022, 6:09 AM

Last updated: Thu 11 Aug 2022, 6:30 AM

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared victory in the battle against the novel coronavirus, ordering a lifting of maximum anti-epidemic measures imposed in May, state media said on Thursday.

North Korea has not revealed how many confirmed infections of the virus it has found, but since July 29 it has reported no new suspected cases with what international aid organisations say are limited testing capabilities.

While lifting the maximum anti-pandemic measures, Kim said that North Korea must maintain a "steel-strong anti-epidemic barrier and intensifying the anti-epidemic work until the end of the global health crisis," according to a report by state news agency KCNA.

Analysts said that although the authoritarian North has used the pandemic to tighten social controls, its victory declaration could be a prelude to restoring trade hampered by border lockdowns and other restrictions.

Observers have also said it may clear the way for the North to conduct a nuclear weapon test for the first time since 2017.

North Korea's official death rate of 74 people is an "unprecedented miracle" compared to other countries, KCNA reported, citing another official.

Instead of confirmed cases, North Korea reported the number of people with fever symptoms. Those daily cases peaked at more than 392,920 on May 15, prompting health experts to warn of an inevitable crisis.

The World Health Organization has cast doubts on North Korea's claims, saying last month it believed the situation was getting worse, not better, amid an absence of independent data.

Pyongyang's declaration of victory comes despite rolling out no known vaccine programme. Instead, the country says it relied on lockdowns, homegrown medicine treatments, and what Kim called the "advantageous Korean-style socialist system."

The North has said it was running intensive medical checks nationwide, with daily PCR tests on water collected in borderline areas among the measures.

It also said it has been developing new methods to better detect the virus and its variants, as well as other infectious diseases, such as monkeypox.

He ordered the lifting of maximum anti-pandemic measures, but said that North Korea must maintain a "steel-strong anti-epidemic barrier and intensifying the anti-epidemic work until the end of the global health crisis."

Kim Yo Jung, the powerful sister of Kim Jong Un, accused the South of causing the Covid outbreak in the country and warned of "retaliation", state media said Thursday.

North Korea has previously said that "alien things" near the border with the South caused the Covid outbreak in the isolated country, a claim that Seoul has rejected.

Despite a ban that took effect in 2021, South Korean activists have for years flown balloons containing propaganda leaflets and US dollars over the border, which Pyongyang has long protested against.

On Thursday, Kim Jong Un's sister, Yo Jong, blamed these activities for the country's Covid outbreak, saying they were a "crime against humanity", the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

She said that many countries -- and the World Health Organization -- have acknowledged "the danger of spreading an infectious disease through contacting contaminated objects", according to the report.

"It is very worrisome that South Korea is sending leaflets, money, sloppy brochures and items into our region," she said.

Yo Jong warned that Pyongyang was considering "a strong retaliatory response", adding that if the balloons continued, "we will respond by eradicating not only the virus, but also the South Korean authorities".

Seoul last month said there have been "no officially verified cases of Covid infections via post or materials".

Kim's comments come as her brother declared a "shining victory" in the battle against Covid-19, after officials reported no new cases of the virus for nearly two weeks.

North Korea has one of the world's worst healthcare systems, with poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units, and no Covid-19 treatment drugs or vaccines, experts say.

Even Kim Jong Un apparently suffered from Covid, according to Yo Jong's comments.

Kim "was suffering from high fever during the days of this quarantine war, but he could not lie down for a moment as he was thinking about the people he was responsible for", his sister said.

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