North Korea says COVID-19 outbreak started with “alien things” near South National border

North Korea claimed on Friday the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak started with patients touching “strange things” near the border with South Korea, apparently blaming neighbors for the wave of infections that has hit the isolated country.

In announcing its probing results, the North ordered its people to “be vigilant about foreign things coming into the areas along the demarcation line and borders by wind and other climatic phenomena and balloons.”

According to state media KCNA, an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old kindergartener who contacted the unidentified materials “in a hillside around barracks and living quarters” in eastern Kumgang County in early April showed symptoms and later tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The investigation results showed that several people who came to the capital from the Iphori area of ​​Kumgang County in Kangwon Province in mid-April had fevers, and a large increase in fever cases was observed among their contacts,” state media said said.

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

North Korean defectors and activists in South Korea had flown balloons carrying leaflets and humanitarian aid over the heavily fortified border for decades.

Former President Moon Jae-in’s administration banned the campaigns in 2020, citing security concerns from border residents, but activists called the ban an attempt to whitewash Pyongyang and silence critics amid efforts to improve cross-border ties .

North Korea has battled its first outbreak of COVID infections, declaring a state of emergency in May after years of enforcing tough restrictions to prevent the virus from entering the country.

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In July 2020, North leader Kim Jong Un declared a state of emergency and imposed a three-week lockdown on the city of Kaesong, near the inter-Korean border, after a man who defected to the South in 2017 returned to the city and showed COVID symptoms .

The North has claimed the COVID wave has shown signs of abating, although experts suspect underreporting in figures released by government-controlled media.

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

Pyongyang has announced the number of fever patients daily without naming them as COVID patients, apparently due to a lack of testing kits.

(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Josh Smith; Editing by Leslie Adler and Richard Chang) North Korea says COVID-19 outbreak started with “alien things” near South National border


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