North Korea blames Covid-19 outbreak on ‘unusual objects’ near South Korean border

North Korea’s Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters, which has been investigating the outbreak, said on Friday that it started in the Ifori district of Gumgang County, north of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the country from South Korea.

An 18-year-old soldier and a 5-year-old child in the area were identified as the first two positive cases of this outbreak and began to show symptoms after coming into contact with “unusual objects” on a hill near the border in early April, according to an investigation report. published by the state news agency CTAK.

The report does not specify what these “unusual objects” are, but emphasizes the need to “vigilously deal with unusual objects brought by wind and other climatic phenomena and balloons” along North Korea’s southern border.

While people can become infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects, the risk is generally considered low, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fighters for a Free North Korea (FFNK), a South Korean-based activist group of North Korean defectors, said in late April that it sent large balloons carrying anti-North Korean leaflets across the border.

The group also said it sent balloons filled with medical supplies such as Tylenol and vitamin C north in June during the country’s pandemic. COVID-19 outbreak.

Both shipments were sent without the necessary permission from the South Korean authorities.

In response to the North Korean report, the South Korean government denied the possibility of spreading Covid-19 through leaflets sent out from the south, citing local and international health experts as low risk.

Medical workers disinfect a trolleybus in Pyongyang, North Korea, on June 9.

South Korean unification ministry deputy spokesman Cha Deok-chul said at a briefing on Friday that the government has repeatedly asked the group to stop sending its balloons across the border as the government is working on inter-Korean cooperation to resolve the issue. COVID-19 outbreak.

Until May, no cases of coronavirus had been reported in North Korea, though few believe the country of about 25 million could have been free of the virus for more than two years.

Since recognizing its first infections, North Korea has reported more than 4.7 million “cases of fever” but claims the vast majority have made a full recovery.

An independent verification of the number of cases and recoveries reported by North Korean state media is difficult to conduct due to the lack of free media in the country.

The outbreak has raised alarm around the world, given North Korea’s dilapidated public health infrastructure, lack of testing equipment and a largely unvaccinated population.