North Korea canceled two major annual festivals in Pyongyang celebrating the birthday of late communist dictator Kim Jong-il due to fears of a potential spread of coronavirus, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported Friday.
North Korean authorities have already been forced to take a series of preventative measures against the potential spread of the coronavirus, which broke out in neighboring China. The North Korean regime has so far refused to confirm any cases of the virus within the country, although South Korean media has reported that several people have already died.
North Korea’s habitual lack of honesty has made gauging its concern difficult, but sources in Pyongyang who spoke to RFA’s Korean Service claimed that the Mt. Paektu Prize Sports Festival and the February Spring Arts Festival, both of which are held on Kim’s birthday (February 16), were canceled as preventative measures.
“The Mt. Paektu Prize Sports Festival and the February Spring Arts Festival, which are huge national events were canceled due to the recent coronavirus outbreak,” a resident of Pyongyang told RFA’s Korean Service this week. “[The festival] began in 1977 and has continued every year until this year. It’s the first time in 43 years that it has been canceled.”
The father of current dictator Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s birthday became a national holiday during his rule over the country. Following his death in 2011, it became known as the “Day of the Shining Star.” The birthday of his father and the founder of communist North Korea, Kim Il-sung, remains known as the “Day of the Sun.”
According to the source, canceling the Mt. Paektu Prize Sports Festival is akin to canceling the Super Bowl in the United States, with the events drawing mass attention nationwide.
“As the new coronavirus situation became more serious, the preliminary games for the festival were held without spectators. But now the athletes who earned the right to compete in Pyongyang are frustrated that the Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party] canceled the entire event,” the source said.
A separate source explained that the February Spring Arts Festival has also taken place every year since 1974, with Kim Jong-un having planned to attend this year’s event.
“Every year the final round of the arts festival is held in Pyongyang, showcasing the talents of the best artists from each province,” the source said. “It’s a great spectacle for everyone… Artists who were selected for the finals after besting the fierce competition in their home region are very disappointed with the sudden cancellation.”
The fact that neither festival was reported within North Korean state media indicates that they did not take place, while the coronavirus appears to be the only logical explanation for their cancelation.
As recently noted by the World Health Organization (WHO) chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, there is concern among experts over a possible epidemic in a poverty-stricken country such as North Korea, as their healthcare systems are woefully unequipped to handle its impact.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it,” Tedros said this month.