Coronavirus 'Spreading in N.Korea'

  • By Kim Myong-song

    February 05, 2020 13:28

    Several suspected coronavirus infections have occurred in North Korea even though it shut all its borders, sources claim. The infections most likely spread through porous parts of the border with China that see plenty of smuggling and other clandestine traffic.

    The regime has even banned foreign diplomats from entering or leaving the country and indefinitely suspended services in hotels and shops in Pyongyang.

    Two suspected cases occurred in Sinuiju, a source told Radio Free Asia on Tuesday. He said he heard the news from his family in Sinuiju over the phone. They said one of the patients had been placed in isolation at a motel there and the other lives in the city's Paekun-dong area.

    The regime also quarantined several patients with suspected coronavirus in Musan, North Hamgyong Province on Sunday, another source told the Chosun Ilbo on Tuesday. They are locals who engaged in smuggling between the North and China, according to the source.

    Liaoning, the Chinese province across the river from Sinuiju, had 74 confirmed infections as of Tuesday, and Jilin Province over the border from Musan 42. 

    Doctors attend an emergency quarantine meeting, in this grab from the [North] Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday. /Yonhap

    The regime is keeping any proliferation of patients under wraps, partly from habit and partly to avoid unrest in a population already groaning under international sanctions.

    It has taken more drastic measures than any other country in the world to prevent the spread of the virus. Last month, it banned all Chinese tourists and suspended trade with China at the risk of severely depleting its foreign reserves.

    On Sunday, leader Kim Jong-un sent a letter of sympathy and a donation to Chinese President Xi Jinping in an apparent bid to seek China's understanding about the regime's latest measures.

    Internally, the regime has launched an emergency quarantine command post consisting of Cabinet ministers and mobilized 30,000 public health personnel. The command post will put heads of central government and other relevant agencies together and prioritize quarantine efforts to deal with the virus, the official Rodong Sinmun reported.

    Sources say Pyongyang has gone into virtual lockdown to protect senior officials. A source in Pyongyang told RFA on Tuesday that the travel ban has been imposed on people in Pyongyang since Feb. 1.

    North Korean diplomats from overseas and officials who have been to Sinuiju to do business with China have been banned from Pyongyang and isolated in a hospital on the outskirts, he added.

    The North has also indefinitely suspended train services between Pyongyang and Moscow and Khabarovsk. No North Koreans have since attempted to cross the border to defect as security has been tightened to unprecedented levels.

    "It's difficult to cross the river, and even defectors who have already crossed the border have gone into hiding because it's impossible to travel," a source said. The regime earlier asked Beijing to stop deporting North Korean defectors.

    Meanwhile, two more infections of the new coronavirus were confirmed in South Korea on Wednesday, bringing the total to 18.

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