A later report by UPI said Kim could simply be hiding out from the pandemic and that he likely evacuated to a safe house on North Korea's eastern coast from the capital of Pyongyang weeks ago as a precaution.
Another report said Kim’s yacht had been spotted in the waters in the Wonsan area in recent days, suggesting the leader could be electing to ride out the coronavirus offshore.
By Friday night, a South Korean source told Reuters that Kim was alive and well and would be making an appearance soon, according to their intelligence.
But several other reports in Asian news media over the weekend pointed to more dire circumstances.
Japanese media claimed Kim was in a vegetative state following a heart procedure.
Hong Kong Satellite Television reported Kim was in fact dead, according to Newsweek, but the report has not been confirmed by U.S. intelligence.
Despite all the speculation about Kim, there’s no way to know for sure because North Korea’s oppressive regime typically keeps a tight lid on information about the leader. Much of what is learned about his health or movements is provided through second-hand intelligence.
North Korea television has not offered any clue as to the leader’s health either, according to CNN.
What is known is that Kim has not been seen in public since April 11.
What sparked death rumors?
Kim, who is believed to be in his mid-30s, did not appear at the birthday celebrations of his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung on April 15, considered the country’s preeminent holiday.
His absence immediately raised suspicions about his health, although intelligence experts couldn’t say for certain at the time.
Kim presided over a meeting April 11, discussing coronavirus prevention and electing his sister as an alternate member of the political bureau of the ruling Workers’ Party, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
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And state media have since reported he sent greetings to Syrian President Bashar Assad and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel as well as “birthday spreads” to two North Korean officials and a new centenarian.
On Tuesday, North Korea’s presidential office acknowledged Kim was believed to be staying at an unspecified location outside the capital, with some close confidants. It said Kim appeared to be normally engaged with state affairs and there wasn’t any unusual movement or emergency reaction from North Korea’s ruling party, military or Cabinet.
President Donald Trump weighs in
President Donald Trump seemed to deepen the mystery at his Monday press briefing from the White House Rose Garden when he said “I do have a pretty good idea” about Kim’s well-being, “but I can’t talk about it now,” Trump said. “I do know how he’s doing. I just wish him well.”
Reports say that Trump and Japanese President Shinzo Abe have been sharing intelligence about Kim’s whereabouts in recent days. South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha confirmed Tuesday that Trump was in constant communication with South Korean officials and “should have been notified” on Kim’s condition.
In the days following the first intelligence report that the leader was in “grave danger,” the president cast doubt on the rumor. “I think the report was incorrect,” the president said at the time.