North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament meets amid global pandemic

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament gathered on Sunday, a day after leader Kim Jong Un presided over a ruling party politburo meeting where he called for strict measures to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Photos released by state news agency KCNA on Monday showed hundreds of lawmakers sitting in close proximity to each other with no masks or other visible anti-infection measures.

North Korea has said it has tested at least 700 people and has put more than 500 in quarantine, but has no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) told Reuters last week.

“The state emergency anti-epidemic campaign will continue to be intensified to prevent the spread of COVID-19, with a priority given to the life and safety of the people,” said a report submitted to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), according to KCNA.

North Korea took swift steps to prevent the spread of the virus, including blocking nearly all travel with neighboring China and Russia, suspending international tourism and imposing long quarantines on thousands of people, including foreign diplomats.

The SPA meeting came a day after leader Kim called for “more thorough state measures” to protect citizens from the fast-spreading coronavirus.

The supreme assembly meets once a year to adopt the state budget and to exercise its constitutional mandate to approve key appointments and legal amendments, though Kim holds near absolute power in the country. Personnel changes also take place in the meeting.

Ri Son Gwon, a former defence commander who was promoted to foreign affairs minister earlier this year, was one of the newly appointed as members of the Cabinet and the State Affairs Commission (SAC) in the assembly.

The SPA was initially scheduled for Friday, but was postponed without explanation.

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