In a rare public admission, North Korea's government has confirmed that dictator Kim Jong Un became seriously ill during a recent Covid-19 outbreak in the country, though without specifically naming the virus.
In Thursday statements by his sister Kim Yo Jong, it was revealed he had a "high fever" but as she described it, continued to work out of greater concern for the people amid the outbreak. Bloomberg writes of the statement from KCNA:
Still, she added in a quivering voice that her brother "could not lie down for even a moment because of his concerns for the people," with state TV showing audience members in tears as she delivered her remarks. She didn’t say whether the elder Kim was among what North Korea calls "fever cases" or specify the date of his illness.
Kim has emerged apparently healthy after spending most of last month away from public appearances, and was recently seen at a public event declaring "victory" in the "great quarantine war." Pyongyang says it has at this point defeated the virus, which was slow to emerge in the country likely due to its extreme isolation.
Kim Yo Jong in her address took the opportunity to lash out further at South Korea, which Pyongyang blames for spreading the outbreak, bizarrely charging that the south's propaganda leaflets which routinely come across the border carried the virus in.
According to more of her statements via Bloomberg:
Repeating dubious claims that the pamphlets caused the recent Covid outbreak in the north, Kim Yo Jong blamed "South Korean puppets" for sending "dirty objects" across the border in leaflets carried by balloons, the official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday.
The revelation of her brother’s illness marked an unusual admission for a regime that rarely comments on the leader’s health -- and then only to show that he shares the struggles of the people.
In a May speech she had warned Seoul directly, saying "If the enemy continues to do such a dangerous thing that can introduce virus into our republic, we will respond by eradicating not only the virus but also the South Korean authorities."
BREAKING: North Korean TV airs video and audio of the leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong giving a speech for the first time. The audience is shown crying as she says Kim Jong Un had a fever during the COVID-19 outbreak and as she threatens South Korean authorities with "extermination" pic.twitter.com/BKuqv7GIiu— NK NEWS (@nknewsorg) August 11, 2022
While North Korean authorities have acknowledged hundreds of thousands of what it has called "fever cases" over the last months, it hasn't specifically name it as Covid per se - perhaps in part as the country lacks enough testing kits, and also has consistently rejected foreign Covid vaccines.
Kim Jong Un, who is a smoker and has in prior years been overweight, is subject of frequent speculation about his health, given also he's recently gone through rapid weight loss. It's widely perceived that if anything were to happen to him that power would immediately be in the hands of his influential sister, who over the past half-decade has consistently been seen by his side.