North Korean leader Kim Jong-un led a massive crowd of mourners in the streets of Pyongyang despite the country’s strict coronavirus lockdown as his “mentor” Hyon Chol Hae was laid to rest.
The retired Marshal of the Korean People’s Army, who was official bodyguard to Kim’s father Kim Il-sung, reportedly died of “multiple organ failure” on May 19 at the age of 87.
Hyon Chol Hae was one of the most senior military officials in North Korea, becoming only the fifth person to be promoted to the rank of Marshal of the Korean People’s Army.
Kim and the honour guard of Korean People’s Army officers escorting his coffin went unmasked throughout the proceedings.
Hyon’s lavish state funeral, which was attended by tens of thousands of people and watched by many more on the state TV channel, seemed to suggest that the authorities in Pyongyang aren’t concerned by the spread Covid-19 in the city.
According to figures published by North Korean state media, some 2.8 million people have been affected by the outbreak of “fever” that international observers believe is Covid.
Pyongyang says that only 68 people have died of the illness – a surprisingly low figure for any known Covid variant – and that it has “stably suppressed and controlled” that outbreak.
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North Korean health authorities said on Saturday (May 21) just over 101,000 people in the capital were “receiving treatment” or in quarantine, reports NK News.
With very few of North Korea’s 26 million people having been vaccinated and with food shortages a near-constant feature of life in the Hermit Kingdom, international experts have expressed doubt about the official account.
While the five-mile route of Hyon’s funeral procession was roughly similar to the one chosen for the 2018 funeral of Kim Yong Chun, another top North Korean military official, the members of the public lining the streets appeared to be more spaced out on Sunday – perhaps as an anti-Covid measure.