North Korea blames ‘foreign things’ near Southern border for COVID outbreak

North Korea blames 'foreign things' near Southern border for COVID outbreak
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Seoul, July 1 (Reuters) – North Korea claimed on Friday that the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak began when patients touched “foreign things” near the South Korean border, apparently shifting blame to the neighbor for the wave of infections in the isolated country. country.

Announcing the results of an investigation, the official KCNA news agency North ordered people to “carefully deal with wind and other climate events and foreign stuff coming by balloons in areas stretching along the border line and borders.”

The agency did not directly mention South Korea, but North Korean deserters and activists have for decades flew flyers and balloons carrying humanitarian aid over the heavily fortified border from the South.

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South Korea’s ministry of unification, which deals with inter-Korean issues, said it was “unlikely” for the virus to enter the North via leaflets sent across the border.

According to KCNA, an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old kindergarten student who came into contact with unidentified materials “on a hill around barracks and residential areas” in eastern Kumgang county in early April showed symptoms and later tested positive. coronavirus.

KCNA said all other fever cases reported in the country up to mid-April were due to other diseases, but did not elaborate.

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

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that while people’s risk of contracting COVID through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects is generally considered low, it’s possible.

North also said the first two patients touched unspecified objects in the eastern town in early April, but were from the western Gimpo area in late April, the first time a group of refugees is known to have sent balloons across the border this year. Read more

The North’s first acknowledgment of a COVID pandemic comes months after it eased border lockdowns that have been in place since early 2020 to resume freight train operations with China.

But Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said it would be difficult for Pyongyang to point to China.

“Had they stopped the virus from coming from China, they would have had to tighten quarantine measures in the border area as further declines in North Korea-China trade,” Lim said.

While the North claims that the COVID wave is showing signs of waning, experts suspect that the figures released through government-controlled media are underreported.

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

Pyongyang is describing the daily number of febrile patients without specifying whether they have contracted COVID, apparently due to a lack of testing kits.

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reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Josh Smith; Editing Leslie Adler, Richard Chang and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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