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    North Korea declares ‘victory’ over COVID

    SEOUL (AFP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared a “shining victory” over Covid-19 as his sister revealed he had fallen ill during the outbreak, which she blamed on Seoul, state media said yesterday.

    Addressing a meeting of health workers and scientists, Kim announced a “victory in the war against the malignant pandemic”, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCTV).

    Kim fell ill with a “high fever” but refused to rest while the country battled the virus, his powerful sister Kim Yo-jong told the meeting as officials in the audience wept, a KCTV broadcast showed.

    The isolated nation, which has maintained a rigid blockade since the start of the pandemic, confirmed an Omicron outbreak in the capital Pyongyang in May and activated a “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system”.

    North Korea refers to “fever patients” rather than “COVID patients” in case reports, apparently due to a lack of testing capacity.

    It has recorded nearly 4.8 million “fever” infections and just 74 deaths for an official fatality rate of 0.002 per cent, according to state media. It has reported no new cases since July 29.

    Visitors watch the North Korea side from the Unification Observation Post in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea. PHOTO: AP

    This handling of the pandemic “is a miracle unprecedented in the world’s public health history”, Kim said to thunderous applause, according to KCTV.

    “The victory gained by our people is a historic event.”

    KCTV had never before aired a speech by “first sister” Kim Yo-jong, who made an impassioned address, the broadcast showed.

    Kim Jong-un “was suffering from high fever during the days of this anti-epidemic war, but he could not lie down for a moment as he was thinking about the people he was responsible for”, his sister said.

    This is the first time North Korea has indicated its leader – whose health is the subject of extraordinarily close scrutiny by analysts – had been infected by the coronavirus.

    As Kim Yo-jong talked about her brother’s health, the camera cut to uniformed officials in the audience wiping away tears or openly weeping.

    She also claimed the country’s COVID outbreak was caused by South Korea, warning of “retaliation”.

    North Korea has previously said that “alien things” near the border with the South caused the isolated country’s COVID outbreak, a claim Seoul has rejected.

    Despite a ban that took effect in 2021, South Korean activists have for years flown balloons containing propaganda leaflets and US dollars over the border, which Pyongyang has long protested against.

    Kim Yo-jong said such actions were a “crime against humanity” and that Pyongyang was considering “a strong retaliatory response”.

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