SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered reduced preventive measures, describing the country’s official death toll of just 74 as an unprecedented miracle in history. history of global health, state media reported Thursday.
Kim’s sister also spoke during Wednesday’s virus meeting in the capital Pyongyang, blaming the country’s infections on leaflets dropped from the air by her opponent South Korea and warning of countermeasures that could lead to a ” powerful retaliation”.
After claiming to be coronavirus-free for more than two years, North Korea acknowledged on May 12 that it had an outbreak of COVID-19 with an unspecified number of people in Pyongyang diagnosed with the omicron variant.
North Korea has since reported having 4.8 million “fever cases” among its 26 million people, though it said only a fraction were from COVID-19. It says 74 people have died, a fatality rate too low that experts have questioned in part because almost no one is vaccinated against the coronavirus in North Korea.
North Korean health officials have been saying for weeks that the outbreak is slowing and have reported no suspected cases since late July, a rapid decline that experts have also questioned.
Some experts say North Korea may have manipulated the scale of the illness and deaths to help Kim maintain his leadership amid the nation’s struggling economic situation.
The Korean Central News Agency said on Thursday that Kim “solemnly declared… victory in the top emergency prophylactic campaign” and ordered a return of preventive measures to normal levels.
He urged the nation to maintain surveillance and controls in border areas due to the global spread of new variants of COVID-19 and monkeypox.
After the country first acknowledged the outbreak in May, Kim imposed strict travel restrictions between cities and counties to slow the spread of the virus. But he also stressed that his economic goals must be achieved, which involved large crowds on agricultural, industrial and construction sites.
North Korea first hinted in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with balloons sent from South Korea, a claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival accountable.
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 not stop them.
During the meeting on Wednesday, Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, reiterated those claims.
“The problem is that the South Korean puppets are still sending the flyers and dirty objects at this time as well. We need to take a strong reaction at all costs”, he said. “Several response projects are already under review and we have to take a very powerful retaliation”.