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June 30, 2021

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said a “grave incident” has taken place that could threaten his country’s “anti-epidemic efforts,” the country’s state media reported, hinting of a possible outbreak of Covid-19 in one of the world’s most secretive and closed-off countries.

 

According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, Kim presided over a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on Tuesday where he accused senior officials of neglecting their duties in carrying out measures needed to fight the pandemic.

Kim then noted that the neglect by the officials has caused a “grave incident that poses a huge crisis to the safety of the nation and its people,” the report added, attributing Kim’s quotes to the North Korean state-controlled Korean Central News Agency (KNCA). 

 

The KNCA did not elaborate what the “grave incident” was, but Bloomberg notes that the report likely points to some sort of quarantine lapse.

Expressing anger about chronic inability and irresponsibility among senior officials Kim reportedly called for a party-wide fight against “ideological defects and all kinds of negative factors.”

North Korea claims it has zero Covid-19 cases, however, this has been doubted by U.S. and Japanese officials. Despite this, the country has undertaken strict border controls and other quarantine measures that have worsened the country’s economic issues. In 2020, the country’s economy shrank by an estimated 8.5%—its worst contraction in two decades—and it’s barely expected to grow this year. Virus fears have forced North Korea to shut its borders with its biggest trading partner China, aggravating the situation further.

Recently, the country called for “maximum vigilance” against Covid-19 amid global concerns about the spread of the more infectious Delta variant. The pandemic poses a massive risk to the country’s antiquated public health infrastructure, which experts fear will be easily overwhelmed by a major outbreak. Fears of the virus have led to Kim’s regime adopting several extreme measures including locking down the border city of Kaesong over fears that a South Korean defector may have carried the virus. North Korean soldiers also shot and burned a South Korean official at sea fearing he could have been a virus carrier. Journalist Chad O'Carroll, who covers North Korea, suggested that the “grave incident” being referred to by the North Korean dictator may point to an instance of senior officials turning a blind eye to some illegal border activities like smuggling or trade. This may have resulted in a Covid-19 exposure.

North Korea has yet to receive any Covid-19 vaccine doses through World Health Organization’s Covax program, according to Bloomberg. The hermit kingdom was supposed to receive around 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the end of May but shipments were delayed as the country’s regime was unwilling to accept monitoring of the vaccine rollout. Last month, the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun, expressed doubts about the effectiveness of vaccines in controlling the pandemic and noted: “Situations in many countries are clearly proving that the vaccines are never a universal panacea.”





Source: Forbes
Image Source: Getty Images