North Korea may have first case of coronavirus

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North Korea may have first case of coronavirus

A Pyongyang citizen who returned from China appears to be North Korea’s first confirmed case of the new coronavirus, a source exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo Friday.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the paper that North Korean officials have been isolating everyone who recently visited a foreign country and testing them for the coronavirus. During this process, one woman from the North Korean capital tested positive, said the source.

It was not immediately known exactly when she was diagnosed, but the source said she was showing symptoms of the virus.
Everyone who had close contact with the patient has also been quarantined, said the source.

If a North Korean news report from last Sunday, which stated there were zero patients in the country, was true, it would mean the patient was diagnosed sometime from Monday onward.

Song In-bom, a North Korean health official, appeared on the state-run Korean Central Television Sunday evening to proclaim there were no cases of the coronavirus in the country. Song, however, said it wasn’t “time to be relieved” and urged “civil awareness” and unity toward preventing the spread of the virus.

North Korean media has made no mention of the possible coronavirus patient Friday.

The North has been vigilant about preventing an outbreak in the country, especially given that it shares a border with China, which has so far seen more than 31,200 infections and 635 deaths.

North Korea has restricted tourists from China since late last month 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 China and the North.

Now that the North has a coronavirus patient, some local analysts believe the regime will likely cancel or drastically downsize many of its events planned for the coming days. One such event could be the celebrations marking the anniversary of the establishment of its Korean People’s Army, which often involves a massive military parade in Pyongyang. Pyongyang has celebrated Military Foundation Day on Feb. 8 annually since 2018.

A South Korean government official told the JoongAng Ilbo that local authorities had seen signs of the North preparing for a military parade last month, but that those signs disappeared from late January, possibly out of fear of a coronavirus outbreak.

That suggests a military parade planned to be held today has been canceled, said the local government official.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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