China’s president has expressed concern about the threat of the coronavirus to North Korea and offered help.
Xi Jinping was responding to a message that he received from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.
Chinese state media reported that the message congratulated Mr Xi on China’s apparent success in fighting Covid-19.
North Korea’s government maintains that there has not been a single confirmed case there, though analysts have questioned whether that is possible.
North Korea was the first country to suspend tourism and to shut its borders in response to the virus, in the third week of January.
The country has a fragile health system, which experts fear would be quickly overwhelmed by even a small outbreak of Covid-19.
In his “verbal message of thanks”, Mr Xi said he highly appreciated Mr Kim’s support during China’s outbreak and “showed his personal attention to the situation of the pandemic and people’s health” in North Korea, according to state media.
Mr Xi called for more efforts to strengthen co-operation in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and said China was “willing to continue to provide assistance within its own capacity for [North Korea] in the fight against Covid-19”.
On Friday, North Korean state media reported that Mr Kim had sent a verbal message to the president that “congratulated him, highly appreciating that he is seizing a chance of victory in the war against the unprecedented epidemic”.
Mr Kim recently went 20 days without appearing in public, and missed the celebration of his grandfather’s birthday – one of the biggest events of the year.
Some media reports claimed he was “gravely ill”, or even dead.
But he then appeared at a fertiliser factory on 2 May – apparently in good health.
On Wednesday, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told a parliamentary committee that there had been no signs the health rumours were true.
“He was performing his duties normally when he was out of the public eye,” a member of the committee, Kim Byung-kee, told reporters afterwards.
The lawmaker said the North Korean leader’s absence could have been down to a Covid-19 outbreak that the authorities in Pyongyang had not reported.
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