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North Korea said on Friday that the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak began with patients touching “foreign things” near the South Korean border, apparently shifting the blame to the neighbor for l wave of infections in the isolated country.
Announcing the results of an investigation, the North ordered people to “watchfully confront alien things from the wind and other climatic phenomena and balloons in areas along the dividing line and borders,” the official news agency KCNA said.
The agency did not mention South Korea directly, but for decades North Korean defectors and activists have flown balloons from the south across the heavily fortified border, carrying leaflets and humanitarian aid.
NORTH KOREA REPORTS ANOTHER DISEASE AMONG THE WAVE OF COVID-19
South Korea’s unification ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, said there is “no chance” 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 child who contacted unidentified materials “on a hill around shacks and residential neighborhoods” in eastern Kumgang County in early April showed symptoms and in later tested positive for coronavirus.
The KCNA said all other reported fever cases in the country up to mid-April were due to other illnesses, but did not elaborate.
“It’s hard to believe North Korea’s claim, scientifically speaking, as the chance of the virus spreading through objects is quite low,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea at Seoul.
The U.S. 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 to be low, although it is possible.
The North also said the first two patients touched unspecified objects in the eastern city in early April, but the first time a group of defectors sent balloons across the border this year was in late April from the western region. of Gimpo.
The first admission of a COVID outbreak by the North came months after loosening border lockdowns applied 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 for Far Eastern Studies.
“If they had concluded that the virus came from China, they would have had to strengthen quarantine measures in the border area in a further setback for trade between North Korea and China,” Lim said.
North Korea could claim COVID-19 victory: “It always wins”
The North said the wave of COVID has shown signs of abating, although experts suspect the figures published by the government-controlled media are underestimated.
North Korea reported 4,570 more people with fever symptoms on Friday, with the total number of fever patients recorded since late April at 4.74 million.
Pyongyang announced the number of patients with fever on a daily basis without specifying whether they had contracted COVID, apparently due to a lack of test kits.