North Korea holds mask-free veterans event after flagging near end of Covid-19 crisis

The 8th National Conference of War Veterans in Pongyang, on July 26, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korea has held a large mask-free public event for the first time since declaring a Covid-19 emergency in May, honouring veterans of the 1950-53 Korean war just days after saying its coronavirus crisis was nearly over.

Photos released by state media on Wednesday (July 27) showed thousands of participants at the annual ceremony without masks, including senior ruling Workers' Party officials and elderly uniformed veterans.

The reclusive country said earlier this month it was on a path to "finally defuse" its first publicly declared Covid-19 crisis, even as Asian neighbours battle a resurgence in infections driven by Omicron subvariants.

The official KCNA news agency on Wednesday reported 18 new fever cases for Monday, the third straight day the tally has held below 100 after topping 390,000 in May.

It said 99.99 per cent of 4.77 million fever patients since late April have fully recovered.

The country has never confirmed how many people have tested positive for Covid-19, apparently lacking testing supplies. The World Health Organisation said last month the situation could be getting worse.

The veterans ceremony in Pyongyang on Tuesday 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. Mr Kim has not been seen in state media since July 8, marking his longest public absence this year.

Seoul and Washington officials have said North Korea has made preparations to conduct its first nuclear test since 2017.

South Korea's unification minister handling inter-Korean affairs said on Tuesday there was a "possibility" of the test in time for the anniversary.

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