SEOUL—North Korea has held a significant mask-free public event for the first time since declaring a COVID-19 emergency in May, just days after honouring veterans of the 1950-53 Korean War, saying its coronavirus crisis was almost over.
Images released by state media on Wednesday showed thousands of participants at the annual ceremony without masks, including senior ruling Workers’ Party officials and elderly uniformed elders.
The reclusive country said earlier this month it was on track to “finally defuse” its first publicly declared COVID-19 crisis, even as its Asian neighbours battle a resurgence in infections driven by the Omicron subvariant.
On Wednesday, the official KCNA news agency reported 18 new fever cases for Monday, the third straight day; the tally remained below 100 after rising above 390,000 in May. It said that 99.99% of the 4.77 million fever patients have fully recovered since the end of April.
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.
On Tuesday, the veteran’s ceremony in Pyongyang 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 most extended public absence this year.