(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korean chief Kim Jong Un positioned the town of Kaesong close to the border with South Korea below whole lockdown after an individual was discovered there with suspected COVID-19 signs, saying “the vicious virus” could have entered the nation, state media reported Sunday.
If the individual is formally declared a coronavirus affected person, she or he could be North Korea’s first confirmed case. The North has steadfastly stated it has had no instances of the virus, a declare questioned by outdoors specialists.
The lockdown was declared Friday afternoon. The North’s official Korean Central Information Company stated the suspected virus affected person is a runaway who fled to South Korea three years in the past earlier than illegally crossing the border into the North early final week.
KCNA stated respiratory secretion and blood exams confirmed the individual “is suspected to have been contaminated” with the coronavirus. It stated the individual was positioned below quarantine. Individuals who had been involved with the suspected affected person and people who had been to Kaesong within the final 5 days had been additionally quarantined.
Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of nationwide existence,” North Korea earlier this yr shut down practically all cross-border site visitors, banned overseas vacationers and mobilized well being employees to quarantine anybody with signs. However the Kaesong lockdown is the primary such recognized measure taken in a North Korean metropolis to stem the pandemic.
Overseas specialists say a coronavirus outbreak in North Korea might trigger dire penalties due to its fragile public well being care infrastructure and persistent lack of medical provides. They’re additionally skeptical about North Korea’s declare of getting had no infections as a result of the nation shares a protracted, porous border with China, its greatest buying and selling associate, the place the world’s first recognized virus instances had been reported in December.
Kaesong, a metropolis with an estimated inhabitants of 200,000, is positioned simply north of the closely fortified land border with South Korea. It as soon as hosted the Koreas’ collectively run industrial complicated, which has been shut since 2016 amid nuclear tensions. Final month, North Korea blew up an inter-Korean liaison workplace in Kaesong to protest a marketing campaign by South Korean activists who’ve been sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets throughout the border.
Throughout an emergency Politburo assembly Saturday, Kim additionally declared a state of emergency within the Kaesong space and “clarified the dedication of the Occasion Central Committee to shift from the state emergency anti-epidemic system to the utmost emergency system and situation a top-class alert,” KCNA stated.
It quoted Kim as saying there was “a important state of affairs wherein the vicious virus may very well be stated to have entered the nation.” Kim stated he took “the preemptive measure of completely blocking Kaesong Metropolis and isolating every district and area from the opposite” on Friday afternoon after receiving the report on it, in keeping with KCNA.
Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang on the non-public Sejong Institute in South Korea stated a radical lockdown in Kaesong would make it tough for a possible virus outbreak to unfold past the town. However he stated virus fears would engulf North Korean leaders.
“The anxiousness and fears about COVID-19 spreading within the North Korean management could be a lot larger than outsiders can roughly speculate as a result of the nation lacks take a look at kits and has just about no services to deal with virus sufferers,” Cheong stated.
The Politburo assembly additionally mentioned the “free guard efficiency” on the border space the place the suspected affected person crossed over to North Korea, KCNA stated.
It stated that Kim and different leaders had been briefed on the outcomes of an intensive investigation of a navy unit liable for the border crossing and mentioned administering “a extreme punishment.”
Greater than 33,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea over the previous 20 years to keep away from poverty and political suppression, largely by way of China. However it’s extremely uncommon for North Korean refugees to return to their impoverished, authoritarian homeland by crossing the mine-strewn inter-Korean border.
South Korea’s navy stated later Sunday that its investigation into who crossed the border into North Korea was being narrowed all the way down to a single, unidentified individual. A navy assertion stated authorities had been analyzing footage recorded by front-line surveillance gear, however it gave no additional particulars. Some observers stated authorities probably tried to find out who has been lacking since final week amongst North Korean refugees in South Korea, particularly amongst these initially from Kaesong.
“Blaming an alleged return defector for bringing COVID-19 into the nation is probably going meant to shift blame for unfold of the virus away from China and Pyongyang and on to Seoul,” stated Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha College in Seoul.
“This may increasingly even be a tactic for ratcheting up diplomatic stress on (South Korea) and making an attempt to additional dissuade North Koreans from defecting to the South,” he stated.
Cheong, nonetheless, stated it was unlikely that the North’s declare of the individual crossing the border was false as a result of it couldn’t punish its personal navy unit with a fabricated announcement. He stated North Korea was unlikely to renew dialogue and exchanges with South Korea till it’s assured about containing a doable virus outbreak.