Officials: Kim could be hiding over fear of coronavirus

South Korean minister and US sources say that fear of coronavirus could be keeping North Korean leader out of public sight.

Elad Benari ,

Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un

Fear of the coronavirus could have been keeping North Korean leader Kim Jong Un out of public sight, a South Korean minister and US sources speculated on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Kim last appeared in North Korean state media on April 11 but missed the celebration of his grandfather's birthday on April 15, which raised speculation about his well-being.

Last week it was reported that Kim is in grave danger after undergoing heart surgery. The report was denied by a South Korean official.

Subsequent reports claimed the North Korean leader is in a vegetative state.

On Sunday, a South Korean official told CNN that Kim is "alive and well" and has been staying in the Wonsan area of North Korea since April 13.

US President Donald Trump hinted on Monday that he knows what is happening with the North Korean leader, but would not provide details.

South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees engagement with North Korea, said on Tuesday it was plausible Kim that decided against attending due to the coronavirus, given stringent steps his government has taken to head off an outbreak.

“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 cancelled because of coronavirus concerns,” the minister told a parliamentary hearing.

“I don’t think that’s particularly unusual given the current (coronavirus) situation,” the minister said, although North Korea has said it has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

An authoritative source familiar with US intelligence assessments said credible reports to the US government suggested the reason Kim’s presidential train had been spotted near a presidential retreat at the resort of Wonsan last week was that Kim had been staying there to avoid catching the virus.

Kim Yeon-chul described reports that Kim had undergone a heart procedure, and that a Chinese medical team had travelled to North Korea, as “fake news.”

A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington’s view was largely in line with the South Korean minister’s assessment.