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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addressed the opening session of his 8th Workers’ Party Congress on Tuesday morning, according to the Korean Central News Agency. Source: KCNA

North Korea has launched a rare political event that is supposed to happen every five years or so with around 5,000 people – including leader Kim Jong Un – gathered inside without masks and seated close together on Tuesday.

While it is impossible to verify whether face masks were worn at any given time, none of the images released Wednesday by KCNA, a North Korean state corporation. of the Workers’ Party Congress show people wearing masks inside.

From a propaganda point of view, the pictures make sense: North Korea claims it has not recorded any cases of Covid-19, so holding a high-level meeting without a mask is one way to reinforce that narrative.

But hardly anyone thinks North Korea has been spared from a pandemic that has infected more than 86 million people and killed nearly 2 million. In fact, Kim’s regime recognizes the danger of the virus and has gone to incredible lengths to stop its spread.

Almost all travel within the country ceased shortly after the virus emerged a year ago, and internal travel is also severely restricted. North Korean state media regularly publish articles reminding their people of the importance of its emergency anti-epidemic campaign. And the regime reportedly had two people executed for failing to follow Covid-19 guidelines, including a customs officer who failed to follow virus prevention rules when importing goods from China.

Experts believe Pyongyang is adopting a vigilant response because it knows its dilapidated healthcare infrastructure is unlikely to contain a major Covid-19 outbreak.

This makes the photos from Tuesday’s meeting even more confusing. North Korea may think the safeguards it put in place were good enough to allow attendees not to wear masks at the meeting. This is a unique event that North Korea does not want to postpone – it is only the eighth Party Congress in North Korean history and the second in Kim’s term. The last outfit before Kim came to power dates back to 1980.

But keeping it is a risk. If just one of the 5,000 people who traveled across the country to attend the meeting had Covid-19 and was contagious, that means Kim may have just kicked off an incredibly important political meeting with a super-broadcaster event.

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