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North Korea lifts mask mandate after Covid ‘victory’

#North #Korea #lifts #mask #mandate #Covid #victory

North Korea has lifted a mask mandate and eased other virus restrictions, state media said on Saturday, days after leader Kim Jong Un declared “victory” over Covid-19.

The announcement comes after Pyongyang earlier this week accused Seoul of causing the outbreak of Covid-19 in the north and threatened to “wipe out” South Korean authorities if necessary.

The virus restrictions have been eased as “the public health crisis that has arisen in the country has been completely defused and the entire territory has been transformed into a clean area free from vicious viruses in a very short period of time,” the official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) reported by Pyongyang.

“The move to mandatory mask wearing has been lifted in all areas except frontline areas and border cities and counties as the whole country has been turned into an epidemic-free zone,” KCNA said.

North Korea earlier this week declared a “radiant victory” over Covid, just months after announcing its first cases in May.

Social distancing and other anti-virus measures have also been lifted, with the exception of border regions.

However, people with symptoms of respiratory illness have been advised to wear masks and North Koreans have been urged to “remain vigilant” about “abnormal things” – apparently referring to propaganda leaflets from the South.

Despite a ban that came into effect in 2021, South Korean activists have been flying balloons carrying propaganda leaflets and dollars across the border for years, a move the North has long protested against.

Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister, blamed these activities for the Covid outbreak in the north on Wednesday and promised “deadly” retaliatory measures against Seoul.

Kim Yo Jong also revealed that the top leader himself had fallen ill during the outbreak and was suffering from “a high fever”.

North Korea has recorded nearly 4.8 million “fever” cases since late April – with just a fraction of those identified as Covid – with just 74 deaths, according to KCNA.

Experts, including the World Health Organization, have long questioned Pyongyang’s Covid statistics and claims it has brought the outbreak under control.

North Korea has one of the worst healthcare systems in the world, with poorly equipped hospitals and few intensive care units, experts say.

It is believed not to have vaccinated any of its 26 million residents, although it may have received some vaccines from China, Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported.

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