KIM Jong-un’s death rumours appear to have been quashed – again – after the North Korean tyrant slammed officials for complacency over the coronavirus.
Purportedly ending his mystery month-long vanishing act, the secretive Communist popped up in a state media report to declare the "malignant virus" has been beaten.
Oddly, however, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has released a photo supposedly showing the leader attending a ruling party meeting on Thursday – which is similar to an image it issued a month ago, when he was reportedly last seen in public.
Today's official pics show the Supreme Leader wearing the same white suit, addressing a roomful of people while gesticulating and clutching his hands in front of party flags.
The images reflect KCNA's statement that Jong-un sharply criticised inattentiveness among officials, telling them they needed to up their game to keep Covid-19 at bay.
He apparently also alluded to violations of emergency anti-virus rules and warned that a hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures would result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis.
The North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published several photos purportedly of Jong-un at the meeting, which were the first state media images of him in weeks.
Neither he nor the ruling party bureaucrats who participated were wearing masks – as was the case in the last official pic, snapped a month ago.
News agency Reuters – which supplied pics of Jong-un at this week's politburo meeting of the ruling Workers Party – cautioned that "independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government".
There's been mystery over Jong-un's recent whereabouts during the coronavirus pandemic, with experts suggesting he has been in isolation to avoid contracting the killer bug.
Some have also assumed that the 36-year-old is hiding a serious illness.
Japan, for example, has revealed it has “some suspicions” about the health of the periodically missing dictator.
Reports first claimed he had died or was gravely ill after he failed to attend celebrations marking the birth of his grandfather and North Korea's, Kim Il-Sung, on April 15.
He was believed at the time to have undergone a botched heart operation after collapsing while on a walk.
After an absence lasting 20 days, he turned up on May 1 at a newly-constructed fertiliser plant before again disappearing from public.
NK News, a news service specialising on North Korea, said today it was the first appearance to include possible photo evidence of him since June 8.
The website added that the tyrant has made just seven appearances from April to June this year, down from his average of 46 for the same period since taking power at the end of 2011.
According to North Korea's official 'news' agency, KCNA, “the Supreme Leader made sharp criticism of inattention, onlooking and chronic attitude getting prevalent among officials.
“He repeatedly warned that hasty relief of anti-epidemic measures will result in unimaginable and irretrievable crisis.”
Despite the warning, he reaffirmed North Korea's claim to not have had a single case of Covid-19.
He told the ruling party meeting that the country has completely prevented the inroad of the malignant virus despite the worldwide health pandemic that has killed more than 524,000 people.
The leader said: “We have thoroughly prevented the inroad of the malignant virus and maintained a stable anti-epidemic situation despite the worldwide health crisis, which is a shining success achieved."
However, NK News points out that his statement is unlikely to be based on reality.
It quotes a World Health Organisation (WHO) official saying that North Korea has "now tested just 922 people for Covid-19, suggesting only 200 have been tested for the virus since April".
The figures were provided in an email by WHO Representative to the DPRK Edwin Salvador.
Salvador said that 443 people have been quarantined since May 7.
“As per the update received on 19 June, 922 people have been tested for Covid-19 and all tested negative,” he added.
Tuesday’s update means the total number of those released from quarantine in North Korea stands at 25,551, according to the WHO official.
Salvador added: “All suspected cases (mild, moderate, or severe) are quarantined in the designated county or provincial hospitals for management and there is no home quarantine for suspected mild cases."
KCNA's official statement on Jong-un's politburo meeting made no mention of the rift with its southern neighbour.
North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office building just north of the heavily armed border with South Korea in mid-June.
The explosion was a carefully choreographed display of anger to put pressure on Washington and Seoul amid deadlocked nuclear diplomacy.
The North sent troops to its demilitarised border areas while the South mobilised air defence weapons.
Around the same time, a large tremor was registered on North Korea's border with China sparking concerns of a fresh nuclear weapons test by Jong-un's military.
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