Pyongyang says no coronavirus in North Korea

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Pyongyang says no coronavirus in North Korea

North Korea says there have been no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the country thus far, and it has been vigilantly beefing up measures to prevent an outbreak of the virus which originated from Wuhan in China.

Song In-bom, a North Korean health official, said on state-run Korean Central Television Sunday evening that there are no cases of the coronavirus in the country, but added that it is not the “time to be relieved” and urged “civil awareness” and unity toward preventing the spread of the virus.

The statement marked North Korea’s first official position on whether there are any confirmed cases of the virus in the country.

North Korea has been vigilant about preventing the spread of the coronavirus especially as it shares a border with China.

North Korea’s state-run media has stressed that its ruling Workers’ Party is taking emergency measures to curb the spread of the virus, adding that emergency headquarters were established at central, provincial, city and county levels.

The official Rodong Sinmun on Monday covered news of the coronavirus in five of a total of 29 articles including reports on domestic measures as well as reports on the global situation including the 304 deaths in China from the virus. A separate article dealt with the 15 confirmed cases in South Korea.

Photos carried by the newspaper showed pedestrians including young children in the streets of Pyongyang wearing face masks.

It also separately covered Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post’s report on Sunday of the H5N1 avian flu outbreak in Hunan Province, China, bordering the south of Hubei Province.

“It is very rare for North Korea to carry over five articles on infectious diseases in the Rodong Sinmun,” said a high-ranking North Korean defector who requested anonymity. “North Korea has inadequate facilities and medicine to prevent diseases, thus in the case of an outbreak of the coronavirus in the country, it could become a situation which cannot be contained and thus is warning caution to its people.”

North Korea has restricted tourists from China since late last month in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus amid several cases of infections confirmed in Chinese cities bordering the country and canceled flights between Pyongyang and Beijing. It has reportedly suspended the issuance of visas for travel to North Korea and also halted traffic between Dandong, China, and the border city of Sinuiju in North Pyongan Province.

Pyongyang has been suspending Chinese tourism since around Jan. 20, and the Vladivostok International Airport website showed that the North’s flagship carrier Air Koryo flight from Pyongyang to Russia’s Vladivostok on Monday had been canceled, seen as part of its expansion of measures since last Friday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

North Korean state media on Sunday reported that leader Kim Jong-un sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping on the efforts to combat the novel coronavirus and expressed “deep consolation” to the Chinese people. It added that the ruling North Korean Workers’ Party’s Central Committee sent aid to China to help such efforts.

BY SARAH KIM, JEONG YONG-SOO [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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