North Korea blames ‘alien stuff’ near South border for COVID outbreak

North Korea blames 'alien stuff' near South border for COVID outbreak
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SEOUL, Jul 1 (Reuters) – North Korea said on Friday the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak started with patients touching “strange things” near the border with South Korea, apparently blaming the neighbor for the wave. of infections in the isolated country.

In announcing the results of an investigation, the North ordered people to “deal carefully with strange things arriving by wind and other weather phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders,” it said. the official KCNA news agency.

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

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

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

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

“It’s hard to believe North Korea’s claim, scientifically speaking, since the possibility of the virus spreading through objects is quite low,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk of people becoming infected with 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 the unspecified objects in the eastern city in early April, but the first known time a group of defectors sent balloons across the border this year was in late April. April from the western region of Gimpo. read more

North Korea’s first admission of a COVID outbreak came months after it eased border lockdowns imposed since early 2020 to resume freight train operations with China.

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

“If they had concluded that the virus was from China, they would have had to tighten quarantine measures in the border area in a further setback for trade between North Korea and China,” Lim said.

North Korea has claimed that the wave of COVID has shown signs of abating, though experts suspect the figures released through government-controlled media are underestimates.

North Korea reported 4,570 more people with fever symptoms on Friday, bringing the total number of registered fever patients since the end of April to 4.74 million.

Pyongyang has been announcing the number of fever patients daily without specifying whether they had contracted COVID, apparently due to a lack of testing kits.

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

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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