North Korea parade ‘could turn into coronavirus super-spreader event’

Experts have warned that a huge parade in North Korea to mark the 75th anniversary of the Worker’s Party could turn into a coronavirus ‘super-spreader’ event. 

Thousands of troops in close formation are due to goose-step through the streets of Pyongyang on Saturday, watched by crowds of civilians and North Korea’s leaders – including Kim Jong-un himself.

Satellite images have revealed troops packing into the capital and rehearsing in formation ahead of the parade , which is also expected to feature North Korea’s most advanced missiles.

The event is designed to be a major show of strength for Kim – who is thought to have suffered a recent bout of ill-health himself – but observers warn it could backfire by spreading coronavirus among the military.

North Korea is preparing to host a major parade with troops marching in tight formation (pictured rehearsing) – but experts warn it could turn into a coronavirus super-spreader event

Troops have been arriving in the capital by bus and are being housed in a large hotel, where  Covid precautions are likely not being followed since the country denies having any cases

Troops have been arriving in the capital by bus and are being housed in a large hotel, where  Covid precautions are likely not being followed since the country denies having any cases

North Korea is also expected to use the parade to show off its latest missiles, which are being kept under wraps at vehicle storage compounds such as this one in Pyongyang

North Korea is also expected to use the parade to show off its latest missiles, which are being kept under wraps at vehicle storage compounds such as this one in Pyongyang

The parade is intended to be a major show of strength for North Korea and Kim Jong-un, who is thought to have suffered a recent bout of ill-health

The parade is intended to be a major show of strength for North Korea and Kim Jong-un, who is thought to have suffered a recent bout of ill-health

Harry Kazianis of the Center for National Interest warned that the event could become a hotbed of disease unless ‘extreme precautions’ are taken. 

And such precautions seemed unlikely, he added, as wearing masks would not be in keeping with the message of strength that Kim wants to portray.

North Korea has officially denied having any cases of coronavirus, though reports suggest the ruling party has admitted to its own citizens that the disease has entered the country. 

‘Clearly masks and missiles don’t mix,’ Mr Kazianis added.

Kim is also widely expected to use the event to show off some new weaponry, after threatening to do so in December last year.

Some experts believe the Hermit Kingdom is close to completing a ballistic missile submarine, and that a test-launch of a ballistic missile from the sub is imminent.

However, others have cautioned that a test during the Worker’s Party event is unlikely, and that Kim will use the parade to show off his collection of missiles.

Among the things that North Korea could showcase would be a new kind of intercontinental ballistic missile – the kind capable of hitting the United States. 

Experts believe North Korea has long been working on a solid-fueled ICBM, which is quicker to launch than the country’s current liquid-fueled rockets – allowing it to respond to attacks faster or launch a surprise attack more easily.

Another major development would be an ICMB with multiple nuclear warheads in its nosecone, increasing the number of targets Kim could hit if he launched an attack.

Alternatively, Kim may simply display more of the missiles he already has along with more launch vehicles – showing off an increased capacity to strike enemies in the event a war breaks out.

Indeed, the presence of any ICMBs at the parade would be viewed as a warning sign.

Kim has refrained from showing off the weapons at all since 2018, as he entered into nuclear talks with Donald Trump which also saw him halt long-range weapon tests.

The event will also attract thousands of citizens to the capital (pictured above, tourist buses in the capital), as experts warn it could help spread the virus

The event will also attract thousands of citizens to the capital (pictured above, tourist buses in the capital), as experts warn it could help spread the virus

A major feature of the weekends' celebrations is likely to be the unveiling of a major new hospital in Pyongyang, which workers are putting the finishing touches to

A major feature of the weekends’ celebrations is likely to be the unveiling of a major new hospital in Pyongyang, which workers are putting the finishing touches to

Major refurbishment works have also taken place at Kim Il-sung square, where the parade will take place, in preparation for the show

Major refurbishment works have also taken place at Kim Il-sung square, where the parade will take place, in preparation for the show

But with talks now stalled, Kim may be keen to put the US back on alert that the hiatus will not last forever, without upsetting either Trump or his potential replacement with a full-scale launch.

Saturday’s anniversary comes during a difficult year for North Korea as the pandemic and recent storms add pressure to the heavily sanctioned country. 

Pyongyang closed its border with China in January to try to prevent contamination, which USFK Commander Robert Abrams said effectively ‘accelerated the effects’ of economic sanctions imposed on North Korea.

Last week Pyongyang’s troops shot dead a South Korean citizen who had drifted into its waters, apparently as a coronavirus precaution, causing outrage in the South.

The incident sparked a rare apology from Kim himself.

The parade will aim to send the domestic audience a message that ‘despite the economic hardships they face, they are a militarily strong nation’, Town said.

The tightened coronavirus border controls have also hampered construction of the flagship Pyongyang General Hospital, whose opening has been flagged as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations.

North Korea has long used giant infrastructure projects to try to burnish the government’s credibility, and Kim has berated officials several times over its progress.

Photos carried by state media in recent weeks show work on the building’s shiny white exterior is in its final phases, but analysts remain sceptical.

Kim is expected to use the event to show off his missiles including ICBMs - the ones capable of striking the US - which he has not done since nuclear talks began with Trump in 2018

Kim is expected to use the event to show off his missiles including ICBMs – the ones capable of striking the US – which he has not done since nuclear talks began with Trump in 2018

Experts have also suggested that North Korea could use the event to show off a new ballistic missile submarine, though say an actual test-firing of a missile is unlikely

Experts have also suggested that North Korea could use the event to show off a new ballistic missile submarine, though say an actual test-firing of a missile is unlikely

The hospital is likely far from being ‘functional’, said Soo Kim of RAND Corporation.

‘North Korea lacks the medical technology, skills, infrastructure, and manpower to adequately provide legitimate medical care to the population,’ Kim added.

‘So the hospital will become another fixture of North Korea’s ‘Potemkin village’.’

Even so, the building is likely to ‘form one of the main propaganda pillars to this weekend’s events’, a report by observer group 38 North said.

Workers also carried out major renovations of Kim Il Sung Square, where the parade and other events are expected to take place.

‘Major political events are great opportunities for the North Korean leadership to promote domestic unity and inspire the people’s pride in the country’s power,’ said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an independent analyst and former North Korea open source intelligence expert in the U.S. government. 

‘Since North Korea has been affected by prolonged COVID quarantine measures and lately the floods, the leadership will really want to make the best of the upcoming celebrations to do just that.’

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