North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared victory over Covid-19 while his sister has told media the country’s leader suffered a fever during the outbreak.
Mr Kim ordered preventive measures eased just three months after acknowledging an outbreak.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported on Thursday that Mr Kim’s sister said her brother had suffered a fever and blamed the North Korean outbreak on leaflets flown across the border from South Korea.
Some experts believe North Korea has manipulated the scale of the outbreak to help Mr Kim maintain absolute control of the country amid mounting economic difficulties.
They believe the victory statement signals Mr Kim’s aim to move to other priorities but are concerned his sister’s remarks portend a provocation.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing strong regret over North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” that were based on “ridiculous claims” about the source of its infections.
Since North Korea admitted to an Omicron outbreak of the virus in May, it has reported about 4.8 million “fever cases” in its population of 26 million but only identified a fraction of them as Covid-19. It has claimed the outbreak has been slowing for weeks and just 74 people have died.
“Since we began operating the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), daily fever cases that reached hundreds of thousands during the early days of the outbreak were reduced to below 90,000 a month later and continuously decreased, and not a single case of fever suspected to be linked to the evil virus has been reported since July 29,” Mr Kim said in his speech on Wednesday, according to KCNA.
“For a country that has yet to administer a single vaccine shot, our success in overcoming the spread of the illness in such a short period of time and recovering safety in public health and making our nation a clean virus-free zone again is an amazing miracle that would be recorded in the world’s history of public health,” he said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong called the country’s virus crisis a “hysteric farce” kicked off by South Korea to escalate confrontation.
She claimed that her brother had suffered fever symptoms and praised his “energetic and meticulous guidance” for bringing an “epoch-making miracle” in the fight against Covid-19.
“(South Korean) puppets are still thrusting leaflets and dirty objects into our territory. We must counter it toughly,” she said. “We have already considered various counteraction plans, but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one.”