Sources report several coronavirus infections in North Korea although the isolated country has shut all its borders and banned foreign visitors. The disease now seems to have spread to Pyongyang, where the elite live in dense clusters.
"A North Korean who had returned from China tested positive for coronavirus," a source said last week. "The patient lives in the main area of the capital where the elite is concentrated."
The source added that North Korean health authorities have issued an alert for the outbreak and cordoned the area off.
Another source said a woman who returned from the Chinese city of Qingdao has also tested positive, and those who came into contact with her have been quarantined.
Earlier, several suspected cases were rumored to have occurred in Musan, North Hamgyong Province and in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, raising fears that there are more patients with latent infections.
The regime has yet to announce the outbreak officially. The Health Ministry told state media on Feb. 2 that no coronavirus infections had broken out in the North.
The state-run Minju Choson newspaper made the same claim in an editorial last week.
The regime also kept the lid on previous epidemics like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
"There could be holes in quarantine efforts in the North Korean border areas because of the regime's high dependence on China despite a crackdown on smuggling," said Cho Han-bum of the Korea Institute for National Unification here. "If infections have broken out in Pyongyang, the city with the largest number of people who do business with China, it's highly likely that the virus has already spread across the country."