By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw military drills on Friday, state media KCNA said, a rare public outing amid efforts to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus in the isolated country.
North Korea has not confirmed any cases of the virus, but state media said a month-long quarantine period had been imposed for people showing symptoms and “high-intensity” measures were taken including reinforcing checks in border regions and at airports and sea ports.
On Feb. 16, Kim made his first public appearance in 22 days to visit a mausoleum marking the anniversary of the birth of his father and late leader Kim Jong Il.
The military drill was to “judge the mobility and the fire power strike ability” on the frontline and eastern units and ended to the “great satisfaction” of Kim, KCNA said on Saturday.
“Soldiers, who have firmly armed themselves with a-match-for-a-hundred idea of the Party and trained under the simulated conditions of actual battles, reduced a target islet to a sea of flames,” KCNA said.
In a separate dispatch, KCNA said Kim has also convened a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo where a stricter enforcement of “top-class anti-epidemic steps” was discussed to prevent the spread of the virus.
“In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences,” Kim was quoted as telling the meeting. “No special cases must be allowed within the state anti-epidemic system.”
He instructed the officials to “seal off all the channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way, and strengthen check-up, test and quarantine,” KCNA added.
A plan is under way to evacuate some 60 quarantined foreign diplomats from North Korea, including from Germany, French and Switzerland, CNN reported on Friday, citing an unnamed source inside the country. The report also said other countries with diplomatic missions were seeking to scale down their operations.
KCNA released photographs of Kim presiding over the meeting as well as overseeing the drills without wearing a surgical mask. All of the aides who accompanied Kim on the military inspection had identical black masks, whereas none of the participants at the meeting did.
“Kim’s activities appear to be intended to highlight to his people that his campaign to build a self-reliant economy is business as usual while boosting military morale and also showing they were not affected by the virus,” said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at Kyungnam University in Seoul.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Chris Reese, Sandra Maler and Ed Davies)