It is possible that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been out of public sight in an effort to protect himself against the coronavirus, South Korean officials said Tuesday.
Reports that Mr. Kim could be gravely ill after undergoing cardiovascular surgery have surged since April 15, following his surprising absence from festivities that day celebrating the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il-sung, founder of the family’s communist dynasty and dictatorship.
“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,” South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said during a parliament hearing.
Officials in South Korea have repeatedly cautioned against reports that Mr. Kim is ill and say they have not seen new or unusual movements within the isolated country.
U.S. and regional intelligence sources over the weekend rejected speculative international media reports regarding Mr. Kim’s health condition, including a rising number that claim he is dead.
The unification minister cautioned that it would not be “particularly unusual” for the 36-year-old to remain isolated amid the coronavirus pandemic, which experts have warned could hit North Korea particularly hard.
However, North Korea has not reported any confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, despite its shared border with China.