For the first time since proclaiming a COVID-19 emergency in May, North Korea honored soldiers of the 1950–1953 Korean War at a sizable public gathering without the use of masks, just days after claiming that their coronavirus crisis was almost ended.
Thousands of attendees at the annual ceremony, including top Workers’ Party officials and elderly uniformed veterans, were visible in photos posted by the state media on Wednesday.
The reclusive country said earlier this month it was on a path to “finally defuse” its first publicly declared COVID-19 crisis, even as Asian neighbours battle a resurgence in infections driven by Omicron subvariants.
The official KCNA news agency on Wednesday reported 18 new fever cases for Monday, the third straight day the tally has held below 100 after topping 390,000 in May. It said 99.99% of 4.77 million fever patients since late April have fully recovered.
The country has never confirmed how many people have tested positive for COVID-19, apparently lacking testing supplies. The World Health Organization said last month the situation could be getting worse.
The veterans ceremony in Pyongyang on Tuesday was to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the July 27 Korean War armistice, which left the two Koreas technically still at war.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who gave a speech at the 2020 ceremony, did not attend the event. Kim has not been seen in state media since July 8, marking his longest public absence this year.
Seoul and Washington officials have said North Korea has made preparations to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017. South Korea’s unification minister handling inter-Korean affairs said on Tuesday there was a “possibility” of the test in time for the anniversary.