SEOUL, Aug. 11 (UPI) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared a “brilliant victory” in the battle against COVID-19, state media said Thursday, calling for maximum preventive measures to be lifted three months after the isolated country officially reported its first case.
Kim made the remarks at a national anti-epidemic conference in Pyongyang held Wednesday, Korean Central News Agency reported.
Health officials “have come to the conclusion that the malignant epidemic crisis in the country has been completely resolved,” Kim said in an address, according to KCNA.
It was “a brilliant victory” over the “greatest danger in the global public sector that has plunged the world into a catastrophic situation,” he said.
Images released by state media showed Kim and an audience of what appeared to be several hundred officials not wearing masks during the conference.
Pyongyang officially reported its first coronavirus infection in May after claiming it had no cases for more than two years. The government instituted emergency measures, including widespread lockdowns, as it scrambled to distribute medicine and supplies to its unvaccinated population.
Kim was “seriously ill with a high fever during the days of this anti-epidemic war,” according to his sister Kim Yo Jong, who also addressed the conference.
“He could not lie down for even a moment thinking of his responsibility to take care of the people until the end [of the epidemic],” she said.
Daily cases of what North Korea described as an unspecified “fever” — due, experts believe, to a lack of coronavirus testing capacity — reached a peak of more than 390,000 on May 15 and have declined steadily since, according to health authorities.
Overall, the country has reported nearly 4.8 million cases, but no new infections since July 29.
North Korea has also claimed only 74 deaths from the virus — a fatality rate of 0.0016%, which would be the lowest in the world by far.
Kim Jong Un, who confirmed in his speech that no one in the country has been vaccinated, called the low death toll “an unprecedented miracle for the world health community.”
Outside health experts including the World Health Organization have questioned most of Pyongyang’s claims about the coronavirus and have not been able to independently verify the situation on the ground. North Korea tightly sealed its borders in January 2020 and almost all international aid workers have left the country.
Last month, Pyongyang blamed Seoul for its COVID-19 outbreak, saying that the virus was spread by people who had contact with balloons and other “alien things” that had been sent across the border from the South.
Kim Yo Jong repeated the accusation during her remarks, saying that “leaflets, bank notes, awful booklets and other things” scattered by South Korea were the “vehicles of the malignant pandemic disease.”
The influential sister of the North Korean leader warned of a “deadly retaliatory” response if the South does not contain the balloons, which are floated by defectors and carry anti-regime booklets or, more recently, medications and COVID-19 supplies.
“If the enemy persists in such dangerous deeds … we will respond to it by not only exterminating the virus but also wiping out the [S]outh Korean authorities,” she warned, according to KCNA.