North Korea declares ‘victory’ over Covid

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The comments come soon after a top official suggested Pyongyang’s leader had fallen ill with ‘high fever’ during the outbreak

North Korea is claiming to have eradicated Covid-19, saying its quarantine system was fully successful against the virus, while announcing an end to strict containment policies imposed last spring.

During a speech on Thursday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un hailed doctors and other “health fighters” who worked through the pandemic, declaring that Pyongyang had won its battle with the coronavirus and wiped out the pathogen within its borders. 

“The painful quarantine war has come to an end, and today we have finally declared victory,” Kim said, as cited by state media, adding that the government would immediately “lower the quarantine level from the maximum emergency quarantine system that has been in operation since May 12.”

Though North Korean officials initially maintained the country had zero cases for some time after the global outbreak began, they eventually acknowledged infections in May this year, with Kim now admitting the country faced a “severe epidemic crisis.” However, the leader claimed that thanks to the “strong will and desperate efforts” of scientists and healthcare workers, the pandemic has been “completely resolved” in North Korea.

Pyongyang reported just 74 fatalities throughout the crisis – what Kim deemed an “unprecedented miracle for the world health community” – though its official numbers have not been independently verified. It remains unclear how many North Koreans have fallen ill from Covid-19, but the leader said “hundreds of thousands” of new patients were tallied every day at the peak of infections.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who is also a high-ranking member of North Korea’s ruling party, also weighed in on Covid during a public appearance on Thursday, echoing prior claims that propaganda leaflets sent from South Korea may have played a role in the outbreak in the North. In remarks sure to stoke speculation, she also indicated the leader had suffered from “high fever” at some point during the pandemic, though did not offer details on the cause, timing or severity of his symptoms.

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