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Kim Jong Un Claims Victory Over COVID-19; His Sister Blames Seoul For Outbreak

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 2, 2019.

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared victory over COVID-19 at a nationwide gathering at which his sister, in a particularly combative speech, said Kim himself had suffered from a fever and blamed doubtfully to South Korea for the outbreak while promising deadly retaliation.

North Korea’s Central News Agency said Thursday that Kim ordered preventive measures to be relaxed just three months after the country recognized an outbreakclaiming that the country’s widely disputed success would be recognized as a global health miracle.

Seen making a speech on television for the first time, his powerful sister said Kim had come down with a fever while glorifying his “epoch-making” leadership and blamed the North Korea outbreak on leaflets flown from across the border with South Korea.

North Korea’s statements about its outbreak are widely disputed and are believed to be aimed at helping Kim maintain absolute control of the country. Some experts believe the victory declaration signals Kim’s intention to move on to other priorities, but they worry that her sister’s comments portend a provocation.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing strong regret over North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” that were based on “ridiculous claims” about the source of their reports. infections.

North Korea first suggested in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with objects carried by balloons flown from South Korea, a questionable and unscientific claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival accountable.

Since North Korea admitted an omicron outbreak of the virus in May, it has reported around 4.8 million “fever cases” in its population of 26 million, but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. He has claimed that the outbreak has slowed for weeks and that only 74 people have died.

“Since we started operating the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), the daily cases of fever that reached hundreds of thousands during the first days of the outbreak dropped to less than 90,000 a month later and decreased continuously, and not one single case of Fever suspected to be related to the malignant virus has been reported since July 29,” Kim said in his speech Wednesday at a national gathering announcing a new response to the pandemic.

“For a country that has yet to administer a single vaccine injection, our success in overcoming the spread of the disease in such a short period of time and restoring public health safety and making our nation a clean, disease-free zone virus again is wonderful. miracle that would go down in world public health history,” he said, according to KCNA.

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

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 2, 2019.
Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam, March 2, 2019.

Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP, File

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 that included its first intercontinental ballistic missile demonstrations since 2017.

The provocative test activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled negotiations aimed at harnessing its nuclear weapons for much-needed sanctions relief and security concessions. need, experts say.

Kim Jun-rak, spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that the South Korean military remains firm and prepared for “various possibilities” of North Korean provocations.

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

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 fury at activists and South Korean leaders for failing to stop them. .

During Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong reiterated those claims, calling the country’s virus crisis a “hysterical farce” started by South Korea to escalate the confrontation.

“The (South Korean) puppets keep throwing leaflets and dirty objects on our territory. We must counter it harshly,” he said. “We have already considered various counterattack plans, but our countermeasure must be deadly retaliation.”

North Korean state television showed some members of an audience of thousands crying as he spoke about his brother’s alleged fever, a reference that was not further explained. The crowd clapped and cheered as he vowed the North would “eradicate not only the virus but also the (South Korean) government authorities” if “enemies continue dangerous acts that could introduce the virus into our republic.”

While Kim Yo Jong has made many speeches and statements in recent years as one of the most powerful members of her brother’s leadership circle, Thursday marked the first time North Korean media broadcast video and audio of her giving a speech. complete, the South Korean Unification Ministry said. . The fact that her speech is highlighted in state media reflects her rising status and may be intended to punctuate the threat communicated to the South.

North Korea’s claim about how the outbreak began contradicts outside experts who believe the omicron variant spread when the country briefly reopened its border with China to freight traffic in January and increased further after a military parade and other events. on a large scale in Pyongyang in April.

In May, Kim Jong Un banned travel between cities and counties to curb the spread of the virus. But he also stressed that their economic goals must be met, which means large groups continue to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites.

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

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