Thursday, May 19

Kim rebukes North Korean officials for ‘crucial’ virus disruption

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un berated top officials for failure to prevent the coronavirus that caused a “major crisis,” using strong language that raised the specter of a massive outbreak in a country that could barely handle it.

Wednesday’s state media report did not specify what “crucial” lapse had led Kim to convene the Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, but experts said North Korea could be struggling with a significant setback in its struggle. against the pandemic.

So far, North Korea has claimed to have had no coronavirus infections, despite testing thousands of people and sharing a porous border with China. Experts widely doubt the claim and are concerned about any possible outbreak, given the country’s poor health infrastructure.

At the Politburo meeting, Kim criticized senior officials for their alleged incompetence, irresponsibility and passivity in planning and executing anti-virus measures amid the protracted pandemic, North Korea’s Central News Agency said.

Kim said that “senior officials in charge of important state affairs neglected to implement the party’s important decisions on the adoption of organizational, institutional, material, scientific and technological measures as required by the prolonged state campaign for the prevention of emergency epidemics.” according to KCNA. This “provoked a crucial case of creating a great crisis to guarantee the security of the state and the safety of the people and had serious consequences.”

The report also said that the party withdrew an unspecified member of the powerful Politburo Presidium, which consists of Kim and four other senior officials.

The reference indicated that Kim could replace his cabinet prime minister, Kim Tok Hun, who would be responsible for the failures in the government’s anti-epidemic work, said Hong Min, a senior analyst at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.

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“There is no possibility that North Korea will ever admit that it has an infection, even if there were mass broadcasts, the North will definitely not disclose such developments and will continue to push forward an anti-virus campaign that it has claimed to be the largest.” Hong said.

But it is also clear that something significant happened and it was big enough to warrant a reprimand from senior officials. This could mean massive infections or some kind of situation where many people are at direct risk of getting infections. “

Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute, expressed a similar view, saying that North Korea is potentially grappling with huge virus-related problems in border cities near China, such as Sinuiju or Hyesan. He said the Presidium member fired by Kim Jong Un could be Jo Yong Won, a secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party who had been seen as a fast-growing figure in the leadership circle.

But other experts said Kim could be responding to illicit border trade that challenged his blockade measures or setting the stage for a political shakeup or purge to solidify his grip on power as he navigates perhaps the most difficult moment of his nine-year rule. .

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said it had no immediate information to share about North Korea’s report and would not make any judgments about the virus situation in the country.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, raised the possibility of helping North Korea in the event of a major COVID-19 outbreak.

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“China and the DPRK have a long tradition of helping each other when they encounter difficulties,” Wang said, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“If necessary, China will actively consider assisting the DPRK.”

From the start of the pandemic, North Korea has described its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” banning tourists, expelled diplomats, and severely restricting cross-border traffic and trade. The blockade has further strained an economy already battered by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions on the country’s nuclear weapons program.

Kim, during a political conference earlier this month, asked officials to prepare for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, indicating that the country is not ready to open its borders despite its economic woes.

North Korea has told the World Health Organization that it has not found a single coronavirus infection after testing more than 30,000 people, including many described with fever or respiratory symptoms.

North Korea’s extended border controls come amid uncertainties about the country’s vaccination prospects. COVAX, the UN-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines around the world, said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million doses in the first half of the year, but plans have been delayed due to the global shortage.

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