North Korea delegates at Party Congress resume wearing masks

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Jan. 12 (UPI) — North Korea‘s Eighth Party Congress continued with breakout sessions among delegates who for the first time were seen wearing face masks indoors.

The Party Congress, which began last week, initially drew attention for what appeared to be a “no-mask” policy among its 7,000 participants, including observers.

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All attendees were seen without masks when Kim Jong Un delivered speeches. In October, during the 75th anniversary of the ruling party, Kim had claimed the regime had fended off the coronavirus, without producing “a single victim.”

Delegates last week were also seen wearing antiviral gear outdoors, then taking them off after entering the April 25 House of Culture. Health experts recommend face covering in high-risk indoor settings.

Kim, who has said North Korea failed to meet goals set in 2016, has never been seen wearing a mask since the start of the pandemic, even during ceremonies attended by tens of thousands of people, according to South Korean news network Channel A.

Analysts in the South say the no-mask policy in the presence of the North Korean leader could be enforced to avoid offending the leadership and its claims about the pandemic. North Korea has said there have been zero cases of COVID-19.

Jung Dae-jin, a research professor with the Ajou Institute of Unification in South Korea, told Channel A it is likely delegates who traveled to Pyongyang underwent at least a two-week quarantine before the congress.

The no-mask policy enforced during the event could be a “show of confidence.”

On Tuesday delegates resumed wearing what appeared to be blue dental masks during the seventh-day session, which was filmed Monday, according to Yonhap.

North Korea’s Party paper Rodong Sinmun reported the breakout sessions, described as “sector meetings,” were conducted to “thoroughly implement the tasks” presented in a report of the party’s Central Committee.

State media also said the councils discussed practical ways to achieve goals for the “next five years.”

Kim has been conferred the title of general secretary of the party earlier this week, a move that further consolidates his rule.