Kim holds politburo meeting to discuss anti-virus measures

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Seoul, April 12 (IANS) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party, discussing anti-coronavirus measures, budget issues and organizational matters, a state-media report said on Sunday.

The politburo meeting held on Saturday suggests that a key session of the country’s Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), which was supposed to take place on Friday, has been postponed for unclear reasons because a politburo meeting usually takes place on the eve of an SPA session, the Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency reported.
Saturday’s meeting discussed anti-virus efforts, budget issues and other organization matters, and a resolution was adopted “on more thoroughly taking national measures for protecting the life and safety of our people to cope with the worldwide epidemic disease”, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in the report on Sunday.
The politburo meeting also called for consistently taking “strict national countermeasures to thoroughly check the infiltration of the virus in the light of the development of the steady expansive spread of the worldwide epidemic disease”, it said.
North Korea is among just a few countries in the world that claim to have no coronavirus infections, but many outside observers suspect that Pyongyang might be hushing up an outbreak.
Pyongyang has taken relatively drastic anti-virus measures by closing its borders with China, where the coronavirus originated in late December.
It has also toughened quarantine criteria and restricted the movement of people and goods.
The latest politburo session also discussed “matters of adjusting and changing some policy tasks in the work of implementing the decisions” made at a key ruling party meeting in December, according to the KCNA.
After the December gathering, the North unveiled a plan to set 10 goals to “stably” develop its economy, spawning speculation it could put forward a new blueprint to shore up its threadbare economy suffering from crippling sanctions.
But the novel coronavirus appears to have dealt an unexpected setback to Pyongyang’s economic drive, forcing it to consider “adjusting and changing” policy tasks.
The North’s anti-virus measures, including border controls, have dampened its push to bolster tourism and economic exchanges with its largest trading partner, China, while the return of its overseas workers, mandated by a UN sanctions resolution, has further dried up its hard currency reserves.
During Saturday’s meeting, the North also elected members and alternate members of the political bureau, the Central Committee, the Central Auditing Commission and the Inspection Commission, including the appointment of Kim Yo-jong, the leader’s younger sister, as an alternate politburo member.
Kim Yo-jong had been dismissed from the powerful bureau during a plenary session of the Workers’ Party held last April, about two months after a no-deal summit between Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, reports Yonhap News Agency.
Photos released by state media showed around 30 politburo members and alternate members took part in the meeting, relatively smaller than previous gatherings apparently in consideration of the coronavirus fears.
North Korea usually holds an SPA session once every April to discuss domestic agendas and this year’s meeting was expected to centre on public health and economic issues aimed at cushioning the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
It was unclear whether Kim Jong-un would attend the SPA meeting.
Last April, he joined an SPA session to deliver a policy speech for the first time since taking office in late 2011.