Balloons from South Korea caused Covid, North Korea bizarrely claims

Pyongyang says wave of infections began after patients touched ’alien things’ near border

Maroosha Muzaffar
Friday 01 July 2022 13:01 BST
Related: North Korea turns down foreign Covid vaccines and will fight disease in their ‘style’

North Korea on Friday tried to blame Seoul for its Covid-19 outbreak by alleging that the wave of infections began after patients touched “alien things” near the border with South Korea.

Pyongyang urged people to “vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders”.

An 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old who came in contact with some unidentified materials “in a hill around barracks and residential quarters” in the eastern county of Kumgang in early April showed symptoms and later tested positive for the coronavirus, state media KCNA reported.

“The investigation results showed that several persons coming from the area of Ipho-ri in Kumgang county of Kangwon province to the capital city in mid-April were in fever and a sharp increase of fever cases was witnessed among their contacts... and a group of fevered persons emerged in the area … for the first time,” it said.

Health authorities in the hermit kingdom have been using fever as a euphemism for Covid-19.

State media added that all other fever cases reported in the country till mid-April were due to other diseases but it did not elaborate.

The isolated nation shut down its borders at the onset of the pandemic in 2020 but only publicly acknowledged its first case of Covid-19 on 12 May this year.

Soon after, North Korea declared a state of emergency. Throughout 2020 and 2021, North Korea had claimed that there were zero infections in the country, though global health experts were sceptical.

In July 2020, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had imposed a three-week lockdown on Kaesong town near the inter-Korean border after a man who defected to South Korea in 2017 returned to the city with symptoms of Covid.

North Korean defectors and activists in South Korea have for decades flown balloons carrying leaflets and humanitarian aid across the heavily-fortified border.

The previous government in Seoul, under president Moon Jae-in, had barred such campaigns in 2020 citing safety concerns of residents on the border. Activists had called the ban an attempt to whitewash Pyongyang and silence critics amid efforts to improve cross-border ties.

Meanwhile, Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul told The Guardian that it is “hard to believe North Korea’s claim, scientifically speaking, given that the possibility of the virus spreading through objects is quite low”.

On Friday, the country reported 4,570 fresh cases, bringing the total caseload to 4.74 million. It has only reported 73 deaths so far. The low fatality rate has been met with concerns that North Korea is trying to hide the actual number of deaths related to the virus.

Additional reporting by agencies

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