North Korea claims disputed victory over virus, blames Seoul


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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared victory over COVID-19 at a national assembly where his sister, in a particularly combative speech, said Kim himself was suffering from the flu and suddenly made a dubious accusation against South Korea while vowing deadly revenge.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported on Thursday that Kim ordered an easing of preventive measures three months after the country first acknowledged the outbreak, saying the country’s widely disputed success would be recognized as a global health miracle.

His powerful sister, seen on TV for the first time speaking, said she was feverish as Kim glorified his “era-building” leadership and blamed the North Korean outbreak on leaflets flown across the border from South Korea.

North Korea’s claims about its outbreak have been widely doubted and are thought to be aimed at helping Kim maintain complete control of the country. Some experts believe the victory statement signals Kim’s intention to move on to other priorities, but her sister’s remarks indicate provocation.

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks at the “Maximum Emergency Anti-Pandemic Propaganda Meeting” in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.
(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

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South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing deep regret for North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” based on “ridiculous claims” about the source of its infection.

North Korea first suggested in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with materials carried by balloons flown from South Korea — a questionable and unscientific claim seen as an attempt to hold its rival responsible.

After North Korea acknowledged an omicron outbreak of the virus in May, about 4.8 million “flu cases” among its population of 26 million were reported but only a fraction of those were diagnosed as COVID-19. It said the outbreak had been slowing for weeks and that only 74 people had died.

“Since we started to carry out the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), the number of daily flu cases, which reached hundreds of thousands in the early days of the outbreak, dropped below 90,000 a month later and has continuously decreased, and there has not been a single case. A suspected flu related to the evil virus has been reported since July 29,” Kim said. said in his speech at the national assembly on Wednesday, where he announced the new pandemic response.

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

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.

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.
(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Lief-Eric Easley said Kim wants to move on to other priorities to declare victory over COVID-19, such as boosting a fractured and heavily sanctioned economy further damaged by the pandemic’s border closures, or conducting a nuclear test. International Studies at Ewa Women’s University, Seoul.

North Korea is gearing up for its first nuclear test in five years amid a frenzy of weapons tests this year that has included the first displays of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017, South Korean and US officials have said.

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Experts say the provocative test activity underscores Kim’s dual objective of advancing his arsenal and pressuring the Biden administration on long-stalled talks aimed at leveraging his nukes for badly needed sanctions relief and security concessions.

Kim Jun-rak, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that the South Korean military is maintaining robust readiness and is ready for “various possibilities” of North Korean provocations.

Easley said Kim Yo Jong’s bellicose rhetoric is concerning because he tries to blame any COVID-19 resurgence on the South and justify North Korea’s further military provocation.

Activists have flown balloons across the border for years to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of Kim, and North Korea has often expressed anger at the activists and the South Korean leadership for not stopping them.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses for a group photo with fighter pilots who performed a demonstration flight during the opening ceremony of a weapons systems exhibition in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Monday.  (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses for a group photo with fighter pilots who performed a demonstration flight during the opening ceremony of a weapons systems exhibition in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Monday. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
(AP)

At Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong reiterated those claims, calling the country’s virus crisis a “hysterical farce” as South Korea began escalating confrontation.

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“(South Korea’s) puppets are still pushing leaflets and dirty things into our territory. We have to deal with it harshly,” he said. “We have already considered various countermeasures, but our countermeasure must be deadly retaliation.”

North Korean state TV showed thousands of spectators crying as he talked about his brother’s fever – a quote that was not elaborated on. The crowd clapped and cheered as he vowed that the North would “eradicate not only the virus but also the (South Korean) government officials” if “the enemy continues its dangerous acts of introducing the virus into our republic.”

While Kim Yo Jong has delivered many speeches and statements in recent years as one of the most powerful members of his brother’s leadership circle, North Korean media on Thursday aired video and audio of his entire speech for the first time, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said. . The highlight of her speech in state media reflected her rising status and aimed to defuse the communication threat to the south.

North Korea’s claim about how the outbreak began is contradicted by outside experts, who believe the omicron mutation spread when the country briefly reopened its border with China to cargo in January and after a military parade and other large-scale events in Pyongyang in April.

In May, Kim Jong Un banned travel between cities and counties to slow the spread of the virus. But they stressed that their economic goals had to be met, which meant that large groups continued to flock to agricultural, industrial and construction sites.

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



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