North Korea’s Kim shuns coronavirus protective gear to ‘guide’ artillery drills

Photo courtesy of Korea Media. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

PYONGYANG, Mar 13, 2020, SCMP. North Korean state media said Friday that leader Kim Jong-un has supervised another round of artillery exercises, the latest in a series of exercises believed aimed at boosting its fighting capability, South China Morning Post reported.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said Kim guided an artillery firing competition between army units on Thursday. It said the competition was meant to evaluate the readiness of artillery forces and improve the form, programme and method of artillery drills.

Kim praised artillery troops for their “militant enthusiasm and attitude” and ordered authorities to hold similar artillery firing competitions on a regular basis, according to KCNA.

Kim’s public appearance was his second in a week to oversee military drills, despite concerns about the possible spread of the coronavirus.

North Korea, sandwiched between China and South Korea, has not confirmed any cases of the coronavirus but has stepped up border checks and imposed quarantine measures.

Photographs published by KCNA showed Kim watching the artillery drills without any protective gear, unlike all the aides accompanying him who were wearing identical black masks.

Kim similarly avoided wearing any kind of protection when he watched missile tests last week and on Monday. Those tests were the first by North Korea in three months.

On Monday, North Korea flew dozens of diplomats out of the country to Russia, including the staff from Germany, France and Switzerland which had closed their missions amid coronavirus concerns.

As well as the border checks, any foreigner from a country that has reported a case of the virus is required to spend 30 days in quarantine.

KCNA said in a separate dispatch that the country was intensifying its prevention efforts.

“All workers are strengthening awareness-raising campaigns about the global spread of the disease and prevention and treatment policy so that no one lowers their guard because the outbreak has not occurred in our country”, KCNA said.

Until the military exercises over the past week, Kim had not been seen in public for more than three weeks, barring a brief appearance to pay tribute to his late father, Kim Jong-il, on the latter’s birthday anniversary.

US-led diplomatic efforts aimed at getting the North to give up its nuclear weapons have been stalled for months. In late December, Kim said he would unveil “a new strategic weapon” and expand his nuclear arsenal in the face of US sanctions and pressure.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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