North Korea claims disputed victory over virus, blames Seoul : NPR


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, August 10, 2022.

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North Korea claims disputed victory over virus, blames Seoul : NPR

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, August 10, 2022.

PA

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared victory over COVID-19 at a national gathering where his sister, in a particularly combative speech, said Kim himself suffered from a fever and dubiously blamed South Korea for the outbreak while swearing deadly retaliation.

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

Seen giving a speech on television for the first time, her powerful sister said Kim had suffered from a fever while glorifying her ‘epochal’ leadership and she blamed the North Korean outbreak on stolen leaflets from the across the border from South Korea.

North Korea’s statements about its outbreak are widely questioned and are believed to be aimed at helping Kim maintain absolute control over the country. Some experts believe the victory declaration signals Kim’s intention 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 for North Korea’s ‘extremely disrespectful and threatening comments’ which were based on ‘ridiculous allegations’ about the source of his infections.

The North blames the balloons of the South for the COVID-19

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.

Since North Korea admitted an outbreak of the omicron virus in May, it has reported about 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 at a national gathering where he announced a new response to the pandemic.

“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 the world history of public health,” he said, according to KCNA.

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.

The West worries about possible tests from the North

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.

Kim Yo Jong’s bellicose rhetoric is concerning because it indicates she will try to blame any resurgence of COVID-19 on the South and will also seek 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 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.

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

North Korean state television showed members of an audience of thousands crying as she spoke about her brother’s supposed fever – a reference that was not further explained. The crowd cheered and cheered as they vowed that 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 delivered numerous speeches and statements in recent years as one of the most powerful members of his brother’s leadership circle, Thursday marked the first time North Korean media released a video. and a sound of her giving a full speech, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said. . The prominence of his speech in the state media reflects his rise to power and could aim to punctuate the threat communicated to the South.

North Korea’s claim about how the outbreak started contradicts outside experts who believe the omicron variant spread when the country briefly reopened its border with China to cargo traffic in January and increased further 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 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.


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