Good News: N. Korea Says It Has Defeated COVID

Sister says Kim Jong Un was 'seriously ill'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2022 6:39 AM CDT
Good News: N. Korea Declares Victory Over COVID
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, Aug. 10, 2022.   (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

North Korea has declared a resounding victory over COVID-19—but experts are as skeptical of the claim as they were over the country's claims to have no cases before an outbreak of "fever" spread "explosively" starting in late April. The New York Times reports that according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency, leader Kim Jong Un said at a meeting of scientists and health workers Wednesday that restrictions would be lifted because the country had succeeded in "exterminating the novel coronavirus that had made inroads into our territory." He said there had been no cases detected since July 29. More:

  • Sister suggests Kim was ill. Kim Yo Jong, the dictator's powerful sister, suggested that he was among the millions of North Koreans who were infected, the Guardian reports. "Even though he was seriously ill with a high fever, he could not lie down for a moment thinking about the people he had to take care of until the end in the face of the anti-epidemic war," she said.

  • An "unprecedented miracle." Health officials told the meeting that the virus had been defeated without vaccines in a "miracle unprecedented in the world’s public health history." They claimed that the country's COVID fatality rate was just 0.0016%, or 74 out of 4.77 million cases in a population of 26 million, per Reuters. Due to an apparent lack of testing, few of what Pyongyang called "fever cases" were formally identified as COVID-19.
  • South Korea blamed. Kim Yo Jong blamed the outbreak on "disgusting ones in South Korea" who sent balloons over the border, scattering "leaflets, bank notes, awful booklets and things," the Times reports. "We have already considered various counteraction plans but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one," she said. Experts say the real cause of the outbreak was probably cross-border trucks from China.
  • Kim's alleged illness. It's not clear when Kim was infected, though he was out of the public eye for a few weeks in June and July. Analysts say he would have reasons to say he had been infected whether he caught COVID or not. "Claiming he led the country out of the outbreak despite experiencing fever symptoms portrays Kim as a hardworking leader putting the people before himself," said Hong Min, of the Seoul-based Korea Institute for National Unification, per the Wall Street Journal.

  • Kim's motive. Analysts say that while North Korea's success in stamping out the omicron outbreak is disputed, Kim is signaling that the country is ready to move on, the AP reports. Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul says Kim is likely to shift to other priorities, including boosting an economy hit hard by border closures—or carrying out a nuclear test.
  • A big moment for Kim Yo Jong. This was the first time a speech from Kim's sister has been broadcast in full on North Korean TV, a sign that her status is rising, reports the AP. South Korea’s Unification Ministry issued a statement condemning her "extremely disrespectful and threatening comments" about the source of the country's outbreak.
(More North Korea stories.)

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