N.Korea's first Covid cases traced to area bordering South: Report

Seoul, Jul 1 (IANS): North Korean health authorities have concluded that its Covid-19 outbreak originated in an area bordering South Korea as local residents came into contact with "alien" stuff there, a state media report said on Friday.

The report by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) cited a probe into the transmission route of the Omicron variant outbreak, which Pyongyang made public on May 12.

"The investigation results showed that several persons coming from the area of Ipho-ri in Kumgang County in Kangwon Province to the capital city in mid-April were in fever," Yonhap News Agency quoted the KCNA report as saying.

"A sharp increase of fever cases was witnessed among their contacts and that a group of fevered persons emerged in the area of Ipho-ri for the first time."

The KCNA added that an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old child came in contact with "alien things" in the area in early April and that they had tested positive for the virus after showing symptoms.

The North's Ipho-ri area borders South Korea's eastern counties of Inje and Yanggu in Gangwon province.

It added that the State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters issued an instruction stressing the need to "vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders".

The instruction also called for strengthening the reporting system of the "alien things" and measures to strictly remove them, according to the KCNA.

Although the North did not specify what the "alien things" were, it alluded to balloons often flown by North Korean defector groups in South Korea, carrying such materials as anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets, portable radios and US paper money, over the heavily fortified border.

Meanwhile, the Seoul government immediately dismissed the North's assertion, saying there is no possibility that its coronavirus outbreak is connected with such materials from the South.

There is a "common view" of South Korean and international health care organisations and experts that Covid-19 infection through the virus on an object's surface is realistically impossible, Cha Duck-chul, the Unification Ministry's deputy spokesperson, said told reporters in Seoul on FRiday.

"As far as we know, there have been no officially verified cases of coronavirus infection via postal or other materials," he said.

Meanwhile, the North's new suspected Covid-19 cases remained below 5,000 for the second consecutive day, according to state media.

The total number of fever cases since late April stood at over 4.74 million, of which more than 4.73 million have recovered and at least 8,130 were being treated, it added.



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