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North Korea’s Covid-19 response has been a ‘shining success’, Kim Jong Un claims

Kim told a meeting of top politicians that they had stopped the novel coronavirus from making inroads into the largely closed off country, North Korean state media reported.

“We have thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus and maintained a stable anti-epidemic situation despite the worldwide health crisis, which is a shining success achieved,” state news agency KCNA said on Friday

However, Kim also chastised officials for getting complacent as the global health crisis has not yet abated.

“Hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis,” Kim said, according to the report.

Images released by KCNA of the meeting showed Kim presiding over dozens of officials who did not appear to be practicing social distancing. None were shown wearing masks.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seen at the Thursday meeting in this photograph provided by KCNA. Officials do not appear to be wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

But diplomatic sources based in Pyongyang said on the streets, everyone wears masks and practices some form of social distancing. Life has mostly returned to normal in the North Korean capital, they said, and construction sites, shops and hotels are all now open. Schools there reopened in June, one source said.

The sources said that it seems North Korean officials are confident that they have the virus under control, at least in Pyongyang, though one of the sources said he has not heard about anyone being tested.

The meeting was Kim’s first public appearance in weeks. The young North Korean leader has in past years kept a very busy schedule packed with public events, but in the past three months he has maintained a surprisingly low profile.

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NK News, which tracks the public appearances of the country’s top officials, said Kim only appeared 7 times publicly in April, May and June of this year. During the same time period in 2018 and 2019, he appeared in public 45 and 46 times, respectively.
Kim’s absence fueled rampant speculation about both his health — he is particularly unhealthy for a man in his mid-30s — and whether a cluster of cases had emerged in North Korea. Some analysts thought it was possible that he was being sheltered from the general public in case the virus had begun spreading through North Korea.

More than 10.8 million people across the planet have contracted the novel coronavirus, and more than half a million have died as a result of the virus. Every country in East Asia has reported at least one case of Covid-19 — except North Korea.

Public health experts say it’s highly unlikely the virus has not made it inside the country in some form. One of the most likely scenarios is the virus may have entered through the northern border with China, where smuggling is common. Coronavirus clusters have been identified in northeastern China, including one in Jilin province in May.

Experts believe North Korea would be particularly vulnerable to a Covid-19 outbreak because of its poor healthcare infrastructure.

But the country is also somewhat well placed to prevent the virus from penetrating its borders. North Korea stopped allowing people to enter when the pandemic first emerged months ago, and people inside the country do not enjoy the freedom to move about as they please. Defectors say average North Koreans are not permitted to travel far from home without government approval.

The World Health Organization representative in North Korea told NK News that 922 people in the country have been tested for the virus, all of whom tested negative. North Korea’s population is likely around 25 million, though an exact number is unclear because Pyongyang does not make demographic information available to the public.

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