Kim Jong-un declares ‘maximum alert’ of coronavirus despite reporting no cases

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Mr Kim made the announcement as he held a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party. He cautioned that a rash lifting of lockdown measures could result in an “unimaginable and irretrievable crisis,” state media reported Friday.

It was North Korea’s second politburo meeting in three months to review the country’s response to the Covid-19 crisis.

The meetings have lead to suggestions that the situation in the North could be severe, despite Pyongyang reports that there were no cases.

The summit was held on Thursday and it did not address inter-Korean relations.

“He stressed the need to maintain maximum alert without a slight self-complacence or relaxation on the anti-epidemic front, and rearrange and practice stricter anti-epidemic effort,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.

Mr Kim also made “sharp criticism of inattention, onlooking and chronic attitude getting prevalent among officials, and violation of the rules of the emergency anti-epidemic work as this work takes on a protracted character,” it added.

“He repeatedly warned that hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis, stressing that all the sectors and units should further strengthen the emergency anti-epidemic work till the danger of pandemic incoming is completely rid of.”

The meeting also discussed the current construction of the Pyongyang General Hospital.

It convened Mr Kim was pleased with the progress in its building process as previously arranged “despite the difficult and unfavourable conditions.”

North Korea has been pushing for the hospital’s inauguration before October 10, the ruling party’s founding anniversary.

The regime said there have been no Covid-19 cases, after it took rapid action in January to avoid transmission.

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During the meeting, there were no discussions relating to the North’s relationship with South Korea.

Cross-border tensions rose again after North Korea launched a series of aggravating attacks in retaliation for anti-Pyongyang pamphlets sent by militants in South Korea.

It comes after last month North Korea blocked all means of communication with South Korea and blew up a liaison office in Kaesong.

Threats of retaliation followed with specific plans to be resolved at a Central Military Commission summit that will take place “at an earliest date.”

But North Korea has temporarily ceased in its provocations and belligerent attitude toward South Korea since Mr Kim suddenly paused “military action plans” against South Korea last week.

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The North’s leader did not explain the reason for suspending the plans.

It comes after North Korea revealed that it has seen its lowest decline in defections on record after restrictions were introduced on the movement of people in China during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The biggest reason behind the decline is that the national borders of these countries were closed after the outbreak of the coronavirus and cross-border movement became difficult,” said Yoh Sang-key, a spokesman for Seoul’s unification ministry.

“A more professional analysis is needed, but for now the decline in the number of incoming defectors appears to be affected by the shutdown of borders in neighbouring countries after the coronavirus outbreak emerged, which made it difficult for people to travel,” he told a regular briefing.

“The primary [factor] is the near-impossibility of North Korean refugees leaving from China,” he said.

Kim Young-hui, a North Korean-born researcher on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) economy at the Korea Development Bank (KDB), agreed that the pandemic was likely the reason for the continued drop in defections.

“Coronavirus made countries shut the borders, and this is likely the top reason that makes escaping North Korea harder these days,” Ms Kim told NK News.

“Also, the cost for defecting was already getting more expensive in recent years,” she added.

“To cross the Tumen River, you’ll need around 10,000,000 Korean won per person.”

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