North Korea blames “alien things” near the border with the South for the COVID outbreak

North Korea blames "alien things" near the border with the South for the COVID outbreak
Written by boustamohamed31

SEOUL, July 1 (Reuters) – North Korea said Friday that the country’s first outbreak of COVID-19 began with patients touching “alien things” near the border with South Korea, apparently shifting the blame to a neighbor for the wave of infections in isolated state.

Announcing the results of the investigation, the North ordered people to “vigilantly deal with extraterrestrial things coming from the wind and other climatic phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders,” the official KCNA news agency said.

The agency did not directly mention South Korea, but North Korean deserters and activists have been flying 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 deals with inter-Korean issues, said there was “no way” for the virus to enter the North through leaflets sent across the border.

According to KCNA, an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old kindergarten who linked to 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.

KCNA said all other cases of fever reported in the country by mid-April were due to other diseases, but did not give details.

“It’s hard to believe North Korea’s claim, from a scientific point of view, given that the possibility of the virus spreading through objects is quite low,” said Yang Mu-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk of people becoming infected with COVID from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects is generally considered low, although it is possible.

The North also said the first two patients touched unspecified sites in the eastern city in early April, but the first time a group of deserters was known to have sent balloons across the border this year was in late April from the western Gimpo region. Read more

The North’s first recognition of a COVID outbreak came months after easing the border blockade imposed in early 2020 to resume freight train operations with China.

But it would be difficult for Pyongyang to point the finger at China, said Lim Yul-Chul, a professor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University.

“If they conclude that the virus is from China, they would have to tighten quarantine measures in the border area to further slow trade between North Korea and China,” Lim said.

The North says the COVID wave is showing signs of a slowdown, although experts suspect the data published by government-controlled media is insufficient.

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

Pyongyang reports the number of fever patients on a daily basis, without specifying whether they have contracted COVID, apparently due to a lack of testing kits.

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

Our standards: The principles of the Thomson Reuters Trust.

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