North Korean leader Kim Jong Un urged officials to maintain alertness against the coronavirus, warning that complacency risked "unimaginable and irretrievable crisis," state media said Friday. Despite the warning, Kim reaffirmed North Korea’s claim to not have had a single case of COVID-19, telling a ruling party meeting Thursday that the country has had a "shining success" and “thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus" despite the worldwide health crisis, the Korean Central News Agency said. Outsiders widely doubt North Korea escaped the pandemic entirely, given its poor health infrastructure and close trade and travel ties to China, where the coronavirus emerged late last year, the AP reports.
Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” North Korea earlier this year shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists, and mobilized health workers to quarantine anyone with similar symptoms to the disease. Experts say the country’s self-imposed lockdown is hurting an economy already battered by stringent US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programs. KCNA said Kim sharply criticized inattentiveness among officials and violations of emergency anti-virus rules and warned that a "hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis." The North’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published several photos of Kim at the meeting, which were the first state media images of him in weeks. Neither Kim nor the ruling party officials who participated were wearing masks.
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