North Korea suggests balloons from south brought COVID-19

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North Korea suggested that on Friday his COVID-19 outbreak began in people who came into contact with balloons flown in from South Korea, a highly dubious claim that appears to have been an attempt to hold his rival accountable amid growing tensions over its nuclear program.

Activists have for years launched balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets criticizing North Korean leader Kim Jong-unand North Korea has often expressed rage at South Korean activists and leaders for not stopping them.

Global health authorities say the coronavirus is spread by close contacts who inhale airborne droplets, and this happens more often in closed, poorly ventilated areas than outdoors. South Korea’s unification ministry said there was no chance South Korean balloons could have spread the virus to North Korea.

Relations between Koreas remain strained amid a longstanding stalemate in US-led diplomacy trying to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic and political gains. South Korean and US officials recently said North Korea is ready for its first nuclear test in five years, amid a flurry of weapons testing this year.

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A state media report said North Korea’s Epidemic Prevention Center found outbreaks in the city of Ipo, near its southeastern border with South Korea and that some residents of Ifo went to Pyongyang with symptoms of fever. The center said an 18-year-old soldier and a 5-year-old kindergarten student had contact with “alien things” in the city in early April and later tested positive for the omicron variant.

In a so-called “emergency instruction,” the epidemic prevention center ordered officials to “vigilantly deal with alien things arriving with wind and other climatic phenomena and balloons” along the inter-Korean border, and trace their sources to the last. He also stressed that anyone who finds “alien things” should immediately notify the authorities so they can be removed.

North Quran defectors release leaflet balloons denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his government's policies in Paju, near the border with North Korea and South Korea, October 3.  On September 10, 2014, North Korea stated that on Friday, July 1, 2022, the COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with balloons flown in from South Korea.  This is a highly dubious statement that appears to have been an attempt to hold its rival accountable in the face of mounting tensions.

North Quran defectors release leaflet balloons denouncing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his government’s policies in Paju, near the border with North Korea and South Korea, October 3. On September 10, 2014, North Korea stated that on Friday, July 1, 2022, the COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with balloons flown in from South Korea. This is a highly dubious statement that appears to have been an attempt to hold its rival accountable in the face of mounting tensions.
((AP photo / Ahn Young-jun, file))

The reports do not specify what these “aliens” were. But blaming things moved across the border is likely a way to dampen public complaints about how it’s handling the pandemic, echoing its objections to the bloated activities of North Korean defectors and activists in South Korea, observers say.

Leaflet campaigns were largely halted after the previous liberal government a law was passed criminalizing them, and no public attack on the balloon took place in early April.

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The activist, who is on trial for past actions, ferried balloons carrying propaganda leaflets across the border in late April after they were shut down for a year. Pak Sang Hak launched balloons twice in June, exchanging cargo for these attempts. COVID-19 aid items such as masks and painkillers.

Police are still investigating the activist’s recent leafleting activities, Cha Dak Chul, a deputy spokesman for the South’s unification ministry, told reporters Friday.

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Cha also said that the consensus among South Korean health officials and World Health Organization Experts believe that infection through contact with the virus on the surface of materials is almost impossible.

In its previous dubious claims about COVID-19, North Korea also claimed that the virus could be spread through falling snow or migratory birds. His pandemic-related restrictions even included strict bans on entering seawater.

People watch a TV screen showing a news program featuring North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, May 16, 2022.  North Korea declared an outbreak of COVID-19 on Friday, July 1, 2022.  started with people who had contact with balloons flown in from South Korea, a highly dubious claim that appeared to be an attempt to blame its rival amid rising tensions.

People watch a TV screen showing a news program featuring North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, May 16, 2022. North Korea declared an outbreak of COVID-19 on Friday, July 1, 2022. started with people who had contact with balloons flown in from South Korea, a highly dubious claim that appeared to be an attempt to blame its rival amid rising tensions.
((Photo by AP / Lee Jin-man, file))

Analyst Cheong Son-Chang of South Korea’s Sejong Institute said North Korea wants its people to believe that the coronavirus originated from leaflets. U.S. dollars or other materials carried across the border by balloons.

Cheong said North Korea would likely punish anyone who secretly takes such South Korean goods. He said North Korea might also try to shoot down incoming South Korean balloons, prompting South Korea to return fire and sharply increase hostility between the countries.

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North Korea is outraged by the leaflet campaign because it aims to undermine Kim’s authoritarian rule over a population with little access to outside information. In 2014, North Korea opened fire on propaganda balloons flying towards its territory, and South Korea returned fire, although there were no casualties.

North Korea’s latest announcement about the virus runs counter to outside opinion that has circulated since North Korea briefly reopened its doors. northern border with China to freight traffic in January and further increased after the military parade and other large-scale events in Pyongyang in April. Kim has been accused by some outside experts of being more responsible for the outbreak because he orchestrated these events to build public loyalty to the ruling Kim family amid economic hardship.

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.
(Reuters/Kim Hong-ji/File photo)

After maintaining a widely disputed claim of no coronavirus for more than two years, North Korea acknowledged the COVID-19 outbreak on May 12, saying an unspecified number of people in Pyongyang had been diagnosed with the omicron variant.

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Since then, North Korea has reported 4.7 million. cases of fever of its 26 million population, but only a fraction of them have identified as COVID-19. It says 73 people have died, an extremely low death rate. Both figures are believed to be being manipulated by North Korea to keep their people vigilant about the virus and prevent any political damage to Kim.