NORTH KOREA: In a statement released on Friday (Jul 1), North Korea blamed South Korea for the country’s first outbreak of COVID-19, claiming that patients had come into contact with “foreign substances” near the border.
The North instructed citizens to “vigilantly deal with alien items coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders,” according to the official KCNA news agency, which reported the findings of an inquiry.
Defectors and activists have flown balloons from South Korea across the heavily fortified border for decades to distribute pamphlets and humanitarian aid.
Leaflets delivered across the border from South Korea to the North would have “no chance,” according to South Korea’s unification ministry, which deals with inter-Korean issues.
Two people who came into contact with unidentified materials “on a hill around barracks and residential areas” in the eastern county of Kumgang in early April developed symptoms and later tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
After mid-April, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) stated that all fever cases in the country were caused by other ailments, but did not clarify.
According to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, it is difficult to believe North Korea’s assertion that the virus may spread through items.
People who come into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects are unlikely to become infected with COVID-19, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, the first time a defectors’ organization is known to have sent balloons across the border this year was in late April from the western Gimpo region, as the North also claimed the first two patients touched the undefined objects in the eastern town in early April.
Months after easing border lockdowns implemented since early 2020 in order to resume freight train operations with China, the North finally admitted to a COVID-19 outbreak.
According to Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Pyongyang could not have blamed China for the incident.
“It would have been a further setback for North Korea-China commerce” if authorities had found the virus originated in China, according to Lim.
Meanwhile, experts believe under-reporting in the numbers reported through government-controlled media notwithstanding North Korea’s claim that the COVID-19 wave had subsided.
There have been 4.74 million fever cases in North Korea since the end of April, according to Friday’s statistics, an increase of 4,570.
Since there aren’t any COVID-19 testing kits available, Pyongyang has been declaring daily the number of fever cases it has.