North Korea has declared “victory” over Covid-19, three months after Kim Jong-un’s regime first admitted to an outbreak of the virus in the country.
“The long-suffered quarantine war is finally over and today we are able solemnly to declare victory,” Mr Kim told a gathering of thousands of scientists and health officials on Wednesday, in a speech reported by North Korean state media on Thursday.
Mr Kim described North Korea’s official death toll of just 74 people as a “miracle” and praised the country’s “all-for-one and one-for-all collectivist spirit”. He thanked health officials for obeying the regime’s orders and “proving” that its policies had been correct.
Go Myong-hyun, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said the “North Koreans don’t have the capacity to conduct mass testing for Covid, so their official figures are not credible at all”.
Mr Go added that the regime “may have made their announcement now because they want to resume trade with China”.
Overland trade between the two countries was halted in April, at about the time of North Korea’s coronavirus outbreak.
Cases across the border in China, however, are rising as Beijing reaffirmed its commitment to its “zero-Covid” strategy.
Speaking at the same event on Wednesday, Mr Kim’s sister Kim Yo-jong, who is also a high-ranking regime official, blamed the country’s outbreak on leaflets laced with Covid-19 and flown over by balloon from South Korea.
Accusing Seoul of a “crime against humanity”, she said South Korea was trying to “take advantage of the world health crisis and crush our country”.
“If the enemies continue to do dangerous shit that could introduce the virus into our country, we’ll respond of course by not only eradicating the virus but also exterminating the South Korean authority bastards,” she said.
South Korea’s unification ministry expressed “strong regret over North Korea’s insolent and threatening remarks based on repeated groundless claims”.
Kim Yo-jong also said that her brother had been “severely ill from high fever during the quarantine war but did not lie down even for a second while thinking only of his responsibility for the people”.
It is the first time that the regime has suggested that Kim Jong-un, who disappeared from public view for several weeks in June and July, may have contracted the virus.
The Kim regime has a history of presenting its leader as having suffered alongside and on behalf of his people. In February, a documentary on state television claimed that Mr Kim’s body had “completely withered away” as he “suffered” on behalf of his people during chronic food shortages.
For more than two years since the onset of the pandemic, North Korea maintained that not a single person had tested positive for Covid within its borders. The claim was treated with scepticism by foreign public health experts.
But less than 10 days after admitting to a series of outbreaks of a “malignant virus” in May, an editorial in the state Rodong Sinmun newspaper declared that North Korea was “successfully overcoming” the crisis.
Since then, the country of 25 million people has reported about 4.8 million cases of what it euphemistically described as “fever”. A death toll of 74 people would give it the lowest Covid-19 death rate in the world.
South Korea’s state-backed Korea Development Institute has described North Korea’s official death toll as “impossible”. In a report published last month, it estimated the number of deaths as closer to 50,000. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022