North Korean leader Kim Jong Un could be trying to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, a top South Korean official said Tuesday as Kim’s absence from public events, including a celebration honoring his grandfather, has fueled speculation that he may be in ill health.
Though Kim has disappeared from the public eye for lengthy stretches in the past, many wondered if something was seriously wrong after he missed the April 15 holiday on the birthdate of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder. Known as “The Day of the Sun,” the celebration is normally one of the country’s grandest, featuring military parades, fireworks and huge public dances.
But South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul pointed out that several traditional holiday events had been canceled in response to the pandemic and that Kim’s absence was not “particularly unusual” in that context.
“It is true that he had never missed the anniversary for Kim Il Sung’s birthday since he took power, but many anniversary events including celebrations and a banquet had been canceled because of coronavirus concerns,” he told the South Korean parliament’s foreign affairs committee, according to a translation from Reuters.
Kim Yeon-chul said the North Korean leader’s decision to skip a visit last week to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the masoleum for Kim Il Sung, fits with Pyongyang’s general scaling down of commemorative events this year in response to the pandemic, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.
The unification minister dismissed reports that Kim underwent a heart procedure as “fake news” and described rumors about the communist leader’s health as an “infodemic,” according to YNA.
Last week, CNN said U.S. intelligence officials were monitoring the situation after the Seoul-based Daily NK reported that Kim had heart surgery. But Kim Yeon-chul said that did not “make sense logically” because the Hyangsan Medical Center, where Daily NK claimed the operation took place, is just a clinic and “incapable of performing surgery or medical procedures.”