Kim Jong-un has fled Pyongyang in a bid to escape the wrath of the coronavirus , according to reports.
A government insider in neighbouring South Korea told the Chosun Ilbo newspaper that the Supreme Leader of North Korea was holed-up in Wonsan, a beach resort town.
"Intelligence analysis suggests that Kim Jong-un has been away from Pyongyang for a considerable time," the source said.
"This appears to be connected with the coronavirus outbreak."
It comes amid reports that roughly 180 soldiers have succumbed to COVID-19 in the hermit kingdom.
A source in the North’s military leaked the death-toll to South Korea’s Daily NK newspaper and said that most occurred close to the border with China.
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A further 3,700 soldiers were under quarantine, they added.
Pyongyang continues to deny that COVID-19 has any presence within its borders.
The regime is also developing a “broad-spectrum antiviral injection which is highly effective in treatment of various diseases”, according to a report from Monday which didn’t name the virus.
The most recent images of Kim Jong-un released by North Korean media, from Tuesday, show him overseeing a live-fire artillery exercise in an undisclosed location.
In the images, he appears bare-faced alongside a deputy who dons a surgical mask.
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One of the photos shows munitions exploding on a cliff face with water nearby, perhaps suggesting a coastal location.
It is unclear when he was last in the country’s capital, but photos dated February 29 showed him addressing the political bureau of the ruling party’s central committee, most likely in Pyongyang.
He was previously photographed at Pyongyang’s Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in a report dated February 16.
Kim Jong-un is known to have been in Wonsan on March 2, when he oversaw another test-firing exercise.
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A beach-resort, reputed to be a “North Korean Benidorm”, is being constructed in the coastal town, which is also said to be the site of the tyrant’s favourite Dacha.
In its report, Daily NK added that the wave of deaths had led to corpses being disinfected rather than cremated, in defiance of government orders.
“There’s just too many bodies,” their source said.
“The military leadership likely believes that suddenly asking the hospitals to cremate all the bodies would create a big headache for medical staff.”
The source added that army chiefs would “be held responsible for the deaths that have occurred in their units”.
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