Kim Jong-un’s mysterious disappearance for 20 days – which gave rise to speculation that he had died – was because he feared coronavirus, spies claim.
The dictator was rumored to be dead after missing the country’s biggest annual celebration last month, then went unheard for nearly three weeks.
But North Korean media have finally released photos of him visiting a fertilizer factory on Saturday – the first time he’d been seen since April 11.
In his absence, a South Korean news report reported that Kim was recovering from heart surgery, while CNN said US officials were guarding intelligence that he was “in great danger” after the procedure.
However, South Korean intelligence agencies say Kim has never had surgery and was concerned about Covid-19 instead.
Members of the South Korea Parliamentary Intelligence Commission said after meeting the National Intelligence Service (NIS) that the reports were “groundless”.
“The NOS judges that at least he has not undergone any heart-related procedure or surgery,” Commissioner Kim Byung-kee told reporters.
“Normally, he performed his duties when not in the spotlight.
“At least there isn’t a heart-related health problem.”
But the legislator said Kim has only had 17 public appearances so far this year, compared to an average of 50 from previous years.
The NOS believe this is due to a possible outbreak of the coronavirus in North Korea.
“Kim Jong Un focused on consolidating internal affairs such as the armed forces and party state meetings, and concerns about coronavirus further narrowed his public activities,” said Kim Byung-kee.
“Although North Korea claims it fell to zero, it cannot be ruled out that there may have been an outbreak there as they had active interpersonal exchanges with China before closing the border in late January.”
North Korea has claimed that there are no confirmed cases.
South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees North Korea’s affairs, has said Kim’s public disappearance was not uncommon because the country had taken stringent measures to prevent an outbreak.
He said the North Korean leader had ordered measures to prevent the disease, stabilize prices and strengthen military discipline, as closing the borders and closing the markets led to food price increases and panic buying in the capital Pyongyang led.