North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was infected with Covid while fighting to contain the country’s first acknowledged outbreak of the disease, according to state media on Monday, confirming earlier reports from Kim’s family as Pyongyang doubles down on claims it has defeated the virus and continues to baselessly push the idea South Korea was responsible for the outbreak.
Kim Jong Un fell ill while working to contain North Korea’s first outbreak of Covid-19, official daily paper Rodong Shinmun confirmed on Monday.
The paper said Kim had suffered from a “high fever”—a euphemism Pyongyang uses for Covid-19—after coming into contact with a frontline worker who had not recovered from the disease when visiting pharmacies in the capital in May.
The paper did not specify the date of Kim’s illness or whether he is still sick and it did not discuss his current condition.
It is not clear whether Kim actually tested positive for the virus—the country is short on tests and calls suspected Covid cases “fever patients”—and this was also not mentioned in the official report.
The story, first reported by the Korea Times, marks the first official confirmation of remarks from Kim’s sister that her brother had contracted Covid.
His sister, Kim Yo Jong, declared victory over Covid in early August but suggested at the time her brother had caught the virus and was unwell, though she did not specify the dates of her brother’s illness (it appears to be the same infection confirmed in the official report).
Pyongyang declared a national emergency following an explosive outbreak of Covid-19 in May. The outbreak was the first to be acknowledged by officials in the country since the pandemic began—a matter of national pride—though most experts doubt the claim. Residents of the reclusive state, who are largely unvaccinated and undernourished, are particularly vulnerable to the virus, its healthcare system is fragile and at risk of collapse if strained and supplies to battle Covid are in short supply.
North Korea declared “victory” over Covid-19 after battling the disease for three months. Experts are deeply skeptical of the claim. Pyongyang has not publicly rolled out any vaccines against the virus and has revealed little data on how many cases it had or provided details of its testing capacity, which is severely limited (it has touted lockdowns, homegrown medicine treatments and vague references to the advantages of its social system). Officials claim the flu, not Covid-19, was responsible for a lockdown in the Ryanggang province near bordering China.