COVID Outbreak Near the Border with South Korea Has Been Blamed on ‘Alien Things’

Korea COVID Outbreak
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North Korea stated on Friday that the nation’s first COVID-19 epidemic was caused by patients contacting “alien things” close to the border with South Korea, blaming the neighbor for the pandemic in the isolated country.

The North commanded people to “carefully interact with alien things that are coming by air and other climatic change anomalies and balloons in the regions along the border area and boundaries,” according to the official KCNA news agency.

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

The unification ministry of South Korea, which handles inter-Korean affairs, stated that there was “no possibility” of the virus entering the North via leaflets sent across the border.

According to KCNA, an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old kindergartener who came into contact with the unidentified materials “in a hill around barracks and housing quarters” in the eastern county of Kumgang in early April developed symptoms and tested positive for the coronavirus.

The KCNA stated that all other fever cases reported in the country up until mid-April were caused by other diseases, but provided no further details.

“From a scientific standpoint, it’s difficult to believe North Korea’s claim, given that the possibility of the virus spreading through objects is quite low,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of getting COVID from contaminated surfaces or objects is generally considered low, though it is possible.

The North also claimed that the first two patients came into contact with the unspecified objects in early April in the eastern town, but the first time a defectors’ group is known to have sent balloons across the border this year was in late April from the western Gimpo region.

The North’s first acknowledgement of a COVID outbreak came months after it relaxed border restrictions imposed since early 2020 in order to resume freight train operations with China.

However, Pyongyang would have found it difficult to blame China, according to Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

“If they had concluded that the virus was from China, they would have had to tighten quarantine measures on the border area, which would have been a further setback to North Korea-China trade,” Lim explained.

The North claims the COVID wave is subsiding, but experts suspect under-reporting in the figures released by government-controlled media.

On Friday, North Korea reported 4,570 more fever patients, bringing the total number of fever patients recorded since late April to 4.74 million.

Pyongyang has been announcing the number of fever patients on a daily basis without specifying whether they had COVID, owing to a shortage of testing kits.

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