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Kim, others attend funeral amid COVID worry

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – A huge number of North Koreans including leader Kim Jong Un attended a funeral for a top official, state media reported yesterday, as the country maintained the much-disputed claim that its suspected coronavirus outbreak is subsiding.

Since admitting earlier this month to an outbreak of the highly contagious Omicron variant, North Korea has only stated how many people have fevers daily and identified just a fraction of the cases as COVID-19.

Its state media said that 2.8 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever but only 68 of them died since late April, an extremely low fatality rate if the illness is COVID-19 as suspected.

North Korea has limited testing capability for that many sick people, but some experts say it is also likely underreporting mortalities to protect Kim from political damage.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim attended the funeral on Sunday of Korean People’s Army marshal Hyon Chol Hae, who played a key role in grooming him as the country’s next leader before Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011.

In what was one of the country’s biggest state funerals since his father’s death, a bare-faced Kim Jong-un carried Hyon’s coffin with other top officials who wore masks before he threw earth to his grave with his hands at the national cemetery.

Kim and hundreds of masked soldiers and officials also deeply bowed before Hyon’s grave, state TV footage showed.

State TV earlier showed thousands of other masked soldiers clad in olive-green uniforms gathered at a Pyongyang plaza taking off their hats and paying a silent tribute before a funeral limousine carrying Hyon’s body left for the cemetery.

KCNA said “a great many” soldiers and citizens also turned out along streets to express their condolences.