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(3rd LD) N.K. leader declares victory in fight against COVID-19: state media

10:53 August 11, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details, expert's view; MODIFIES lead)
By Chae Yun-hwan

SEOUL, Aug. 11 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has declared victory in his country's emergency campaign against COVID-19, state media reported Thursday, three months after the nation reported its first COVID-19 outbreak.

Kim made the announcement during a national meeting on anti-epidemic measures he presided over the previous day in Pyongyang, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

He "solemnly declared the victory in the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign for exterminating the novel coronavirus that had made inroads into our territory and protecting the lives and health of the people," it said in an English-language article.

This photo, released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Aug. 11, 2022, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un making a speech to declare victory in the country's fight against COVID-19 during a national meeting on anti-epidemic measures in Pyongyang held the previous day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Touting the success of three months of the impoverished nation's antivirus measures, Kim proclaimed a decision to lower its "maximum" emergency epidemic prevention system to a normal level.

Kim, however, stressed the need for continued vigilance and stricter measures in border areas to prevent COVID-19 from again entering the country, citing the global spread of variants and monkeypox.

"He clarified the principles and important tasks to be fulfilled in further consolidating the victory in the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign, maintaining the steel-strong anti-epidemic barrier and intensifying the anti-epidemic work until the end of the global health crisis," the KCNA reported.

Meanwhile, Kim Yo-jong, the leader's younger sister who serves as vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, blamed the country's virus crisis on the "hysteric farce" from the South to escalate confrontation and reiterated the claim that "alien things" from the South carried the virus into the North.

"We have already considered various counteraction plans but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one," she was quoted as saying at the meeting by the KCNA in a separate English-language article. "If the enemy persists in such dangerous deeds as fomenting the inroads of virus into our Republic, we will respond to it by not only exterminating the virus but also wiping out the south Korean authorities."

She even revealed that her brother had fallen ill with "high fever" himself amid the country's antivirus fight in her speech praising the leader's efforts to manage the situation.

Observers in Seoul said her message appears to be aimed at boosting internal unity by shifting the blame to the South and highlighting the leader's self-proclaimed care for the people.

The accusation against the South is apparently intended to dilute a public perception that the Kim regime is responsible for the virus crisis, said Hong Min, director of the North Korean Research Division at the Korea Institute for National Unification.

"For North Korean authorities, it was like killing two birds with one stone as it allowed for an opportunity to justify its hostile policy against South Korea," he said.

Pyongyang announced its first COVID-19 case on May 12 after claiming to be coronavirus-free for over two years and implemented nationwide lockdowns. The North's daily fever tally has remained at zero since July 29 after peaking at over 392,920 on May 15

Last month, the North claimed its coronavirus outbreak originated from alien things found near the inter-Korean border, alluding to balloon-carried materials sent by North Korean defector groups in South Korea, such as anti-Pyongyang leaflets.

The North's latest declaration comes just before South Korea and the United States are set to kick off the allies' Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercise on Aug. 22 amid concerns that Pyongyang could dial up regional tensions with military provocations.

This photo, released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency on Aug. 11, 2022, shows North Korean officials attending a national meeting on anti-epidemic measures the previous day in Pyongyang, where leader Kim Jong-un made a speech to declare victory in the country's fight against COVID-19. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

yunhwanchae@yna.co.kr
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