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N. Korea attributes the COVID outbreak to "foreign objects" along the border with the South

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English -  On Friday, North Korea allegedly shifted responsibility for the surge of infections in the isolated nat...

Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English -  On Friday, North Korea allegedly shifted responsibility for the surge of infections in the isolated nation to its neighbour by asserting that the country's first COVID-19 epidemic was caused by patients touching "foreign substances" close to the border with South Korea.

The North instructed citizens to "vigilantly deal with alien items coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons in the areas around the demarcation line and borders," the official KCNA news agency reported after announcing the findings of an investigation.

Although South Korean activists and North Korean defectors have for years flown balloons from the South across the heavily defended border delivering leaflets and humanitarian goods, the agency made no explicit mention of South Korea.

There was "no chance," according to South Korea's unification ministry, of the virus entering the North through leaflets dropped across the border.

A five-year-old kindergartener and an 18-year-old soldier who came into contact with the unknown materials "in a hill around barracks and residential quarters" in the eastern county of Kumgang in the beginning of April exhibited symptoms and later tested positive for the coronavirus, according to KCNA.

All other fever cases reported in the nation up to mid-April, according to the KCNA, were brought on by other illnesses, although it made no more explanations.

Scientifically, it is difficult to accept North Korea's assertion considering how unlikely it is for the virus to spread through items, according to Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

The chance of humans contracting COVID by contact with contaminated surfaces or items is typically regarded as minimal, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while it is possible.

Although the first confirmed instance of a defectors' group sending balloons across the border this year was in late April from the western Gimpo region, the North also claimed that the first two patients had touched the unidentified items in the eastern town in early April.

A few months after easing border lockdowns put in place since early 2020 so that freight train operations with China might restart, the North made its first acknowledgement of a COVID epidemic.

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

"They would have had to increase quarantine restrictions on the border area in a further setback to North Korea-China trade," Lim added. "If they judged the virus was from China."

The North claims that the COVID wave is showing signs of abating, although analysts believe the numbers published by media outlets under official control may be underreported.

On Friday, 4,570 more people in North Korea reported having feverish symptoms, bringing the total number of fever patients since late April to 4.74 million.

Due to an apparent shortage of testing kits, Pyongyang has been reporting the number of fever patients each day without mentioning whether they have COVID.

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