Everyone Masked Up at State Funeral, Except Kim Jong Un

North Korea says its COVID outbreak is easing, but many are skeptical
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 23, 2022 12:09 PM CDT
Throngs Gather for N. Korean State Funeral Despite COVID
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un covers the coffin of Marshal of the Korean People's Army Hyon Chol Hae with earth at a cemetery in Pyongyang, North Korea Sunday, May 22, 2022.   (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

(Newser) – A huge number of North Koreans including leader Kim Jong Un attended a funeral for a top official, state media reported Monday, as the country maintained the disputed claim that its suspected coronavirus outbreak is subsiding. Since admitting earlier this month to an outbreak, North Korea has only stated how many people have fevers daily and identified just a fraction of the cases as COVID-19, per the AP. State media said Monday that 2.8 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever but only 68 of them died since late April. North Korea has limited testing capability for that many sick people; some experts say it may be underreporting mortalities to protect Kim from political damage.

The official Korean Central News Agency said Kim attended the funeral Sunday of Hyon Chol Hae, a People’s Army marshal who played a key role in grooming him as the country’s next leader before Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, died in 2011. In one of the country’s biggest state funerals since his father's death, a bare-faced Kim Jong Un carried Hyon’s coffin with top officials who wore masks. Kim and hundreds of masked soldiers and officials also deeply bowed before Hyon’s grave at the national cemetery. State TV earlier showed thousands of other masked soldiers clad in olive-green uniforms gathered at a Pyongyang plaza.

KCNA quoted Kim as saying that “the name of Hyon Chol Hae would be always remembered along with the august name of Kim Jong Il." He wept when he visited a mourning station established for Hyon last week. During Sunday’s funeral, most people, except for Kim Jong Un and honor guards, wore masks. The North’s ongoing outbreak was likely caused by an April 25 military parade that drew large crowds of unmasked people. Experts suspect COVID cases have since skyrocketed, but the country has shunned outside assistance.

(Read more North Korea stories.)

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