SEOUL, Nov. 15 (UPI) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for stronger COVID-19 prevention measures at a meeting of the politburo of the ruling Workers’ Party, state media reported on Monday, marking his first public appearance in 25 days.
The meeting, which was held Sunday, “discussed in depth the issue of further tightening the state emergency anti-epidemic system in the face of the ever-worsening worldwide health crisis,” Korean Central News Agency reported.
Kim “stressed the need to keep a high alert, build a tight blocking wall and further intensify the anti-epidemic work,” KCNA said.
As of Nov. 5, North Korea has conducted more than 12,000 tests but has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization.
Overall, the country has reported 6,173 suspected cases, eight of which were foreigners, with 174 people being held in quarantine during the last week of October.
Outside experts question whether North Korea has truly managed to avoid the deadly pandemic, but the totalitarian state took dramatic steps early by completely sealing its borders in January.
The country has also given its troops “shoot-to-kill orders” on the border to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country, according to Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea.
In September, North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean fisheries official who drifted across the maritime boundary. Seoul military officials initially reported that the soldiers burned his body, an allegation that Pyongyang has denied and which has not yet been conclusively proven.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service said last week that the North has also laid landmines at its border with China to help fend off the coronavirus, fearing an outbreak would overwhelm its limited medical infrastructure, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.
Sunday’s public appearance by Kim was his first since Oct. 22, when KCNA reported that he visited a cemetery to pay respects to Chinese soldiers who participated in the 1950-1953 Korean War. On Oct. 10, the North Korean leader presided over a massive military parade, where a new intercontinental ballistic missile was unveiled.
Kim disappeared from view in April for about three weeks, fueling widespread speculation about his health, with some rumors claiming that his death was imminent.
The North Korean leader has remained silent about the results of the Nov. 3 U.S. general election, in which President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump.
Trump and Kim met three times during a period of renewed détente with North Korea, with the two leaders frequently exchanging personal letters and publicly praising one another. Nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington have long been stalled, however, after a Trump-Kim summit held last year in Hanoi, Vietnam, failed to produce an agreement.