June 20, 2024

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North Korea blames ‘stranger things’ near the border with the south for the COVID outbreak

North Korea blames 'stranger things' near the border with the south for the COVID outbreak

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea claimed on Friday that the first outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in the country began with patients coming into contact with “stranger things” near the border with South Korea, apparently blaming the neighbor for the wave of infections in the isolated area. country.

The official Korean Central News Agency said that North Korea, when announcing the results of the investigation, ordered people to “vigilantly deal with strange things coming from wind and other weather phenomena and balloons in areas along the demarcation line and border.”

The agency did not directly mention South Korea, but for decades North Korean defectors and activists have launched balloons from the south across the heavily fortified border, carrying leaflets and humanitarian aid.

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South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said there was “no possibility” of the virus entering North Korea through leaflets sent across the border.

According to the Korean Central News Agency, an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old girl who came into contact with unidentified items “in a hill around barracks and residential neighborhoods” in eastern Kumgang province in early April developed symptoms and later tested positive for the virus. Corona virus.

All other fever cases reported in the country as of mid-April were due to other illnesses, the agency said, but gave no details.

“Scientifically speaking, it’s hard to believe North Korea’s claim, given that the probability of the virus spreading through things is very low,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk of people contracting COVID through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects is generally considered low, although it is possible.

North Korea also said the first two patients touched unidentified objects in the eastern town in early April, but the first time a defector group was known to have sent balloons across the border this year was in late April from the western Gimpo region. Read more

North Korea’s first acceptance of the coronavirus outbreak came months after easing a border closure that had been in place since early 2020 to resume freight train operations with China.

Lim Yeol-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies, said it was difficult for Pyongyang to point the finger at China.

“If they find out that the virus is from China, they will have to tighten quarantine measures on the border area in another setback for North Korea-China trade,” Lim said.

North Korea has claimed that the COVID wave has shown signs of abating, although experts suspect there has been insufficient coverage in the figures released by the government-controlled media.

North Korea reported another 4,570 people showing symptoms of fever on Friday, with the total number of fever patients since late April recorded at 4.74 million.

Pyongyang has reported the number of fever patients per day without specifying whether they have contracted COVID, apparently due to a shortage of test kits.

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(Reporting by Su Hyang Choi and Josh Smith). Editing by Leslie Adler, Richard Chang and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.