North Korea blames ‘aliens’ near South border for COVID outbreak

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North Korea said on 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 for a wave of infections in the isolated country to a neighbor.

Announcing the results of the investigation, the North ordered people to “vigilously fight against aliens brought by wind and other climatic phenomena and balloons in areas along the demarcation line and borders,” according to the official news agency KCNA.

The agency did not mention South Korea directly, but North Korean defectors and activists have flown balloons from the south across the heavily fortified border for decades, delivering leaflets and humanitarian aid.

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South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the virus was “impossible”. exit to the north through leaflets sent across the border.

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report about the COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, May 17, 2022.

People watch a TV broadcasting a news report about the COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, May 17, 2022.

An 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old kindergarten student who came into contact with unknown materials “on a hill around barracks and residential areas” in eastern Geumgang County in early April were diagnosed with symptoms and later tested positive for coronavirus, KCNA said. coronavirus.

The KCNA said all other cases of fever reported in the country through mid-April were due to other illnesses, but did not elaborate.

“It is hard to believe North Korean claimfrom a scientific point of view, given that the likelihood 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 getting COVID-19 through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects is generally considered low, although it is possible.

The North also reported that the first two patients touched unspecified objects in the eastern city in early April, but this year, a group of defectors are known to have sent balloons across the border for the first time in late April from the western region of Gimpo.

The North’s first acknowledgment of the COVID outbreak comes months after it eased border restrictions put in place since early 2020 to reopen freight trains with China.

But it would be difficult for Pyongyang blames Chinasaid Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Far East Institute at Gyeongnam University.

“If they came to the conclusion that the virus was from China, they would have to tighten quarantine measures at the border, further damaging trade between North Korea and China,” Lim said.

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The North said the COVID wave showed signs of easing, though experts suspect underreporting in numbers released by government-controlled media.

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

Pyongyang announces the number of patients with fever daily, without specifying whether they contracted COVID, apparently due to a lack of testing kits.