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North Korean border city locked down over suspected Covid-19 case

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PHOTO: Forbes

North Korea has, until now, claimed not a single case of Covid-19 within its borders, a claim widely doubted by experts. Today, North Korea state media reports that the secretive nation’s “dear leader” Kim Jong Un has  placed the city of Kaesong, near the border with South Korea, under total lockdown after a person was found with suspected coronavirus symptoms, saying he believes “the vicious virus” may have entered the country.

If the patient tests positive, he or she will be the North’s first “confirmed” coronavirus case. North Korea has consistently said it’s had no virus cases in its territory, a claim widely disputed by outside observers.

The Korean Central News Agency reports that the lockdown was declared on Friday. State media say the suspected case is a runaway who fled to South Korea years ago before illegally crossing the border back into North Korea early last week.

None of the Coronavirus Counters has regifted the case as ‘official’ at this stage.

KCNA says “respiratory secretion and blood tests show the person is suspected to have been infected” with the virus. It reports that the suspected case and others who were in contact, as well as those who have been to Kaesong in the last 5 days, were placed under quarantine.

Earlier this year North Korea shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned foreign tourists altogether and mobilised health workers to quarantine anyone with symptoms, describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence”. But the Kaesong lockdown is the first such (known) measures taken in a North Korean city to control possible infections.

Experts say a Covid-19 outbreak in North Korea could have dire consequences because of the country’s poor public health infrastructure and chronic lack of medical supplies.

Kaesong, a city of an estimated 200,000 people, is just north of the heavily fortified land border with South Korea. It once hosted the Koreas’ jointly run industrial complex, which has been stalled since 2016 amid nuclear tensions. In June North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison office there to protest a campaign by South Korean activists who were sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

Over 33,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea over the past 2 decades to avoid poverty and political suppression, mostly via the porous border with China. It’s rare for North Korean refugees to return to their homeland by recrossing the mine-strewn border.

SOURCES: Thai PBS World | AP

 

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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