North Korea suggests virus arrived in balloons launched in South Korea

North Korea suggested today that the Covid-19 outbreak started in people who had contact with balloons launched from South Korea.

North Korean state media reported that North Korea’s epidemic prevention center had found outbreaks of infection in the city of Ipho, near the southeastern border with South Korea, and that some residents with fever symptoms had traveled to Pyongyang. .

The center said an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old child had contact with “foreign objects” in the city in early April and later tested positive for the omicron variant.

In what it called “an emergency instruction”, the epidemic prevention center ordered officials to “vigilantly deal with foreign objects carried by wind and other weather phenomena and balloons” along the inter-Korean border and trace their provenance.

He also stressed that anyone who finds “foreign objects” must immediately notify the authorities so that they can be removed.

Balloon campaigns largely stopped after the previous South Korean government passed a law criminalizing them, and there were no such public actions in early April.

An activist, who is on trial for past activities, launched balloons with propaganda leaflets across the border in late April. And it sent twice more in June, but swapping the usual load of pamphlets for Covid-19-related items, such as masks and painkillers.

In previous statements about Covid-19, North Korea also said that the virus could spread through snowfall or migratory birds. The pandemic-related restrictions even included strict bans on entering seawater.

Activists have been sending balloons across the border for years to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. North Korea has criticized South Korea’s leadership for failing to stop the activists.

World health authorities say the coronavirus is spread by people in close contact who inhale airborne droplets, and is more likely to occur in closed, poorly ventilated spaces than outdoors.

A spokesman for the Southern Unification Ministry told journalists there was a consensus between South Korean health officials and experts from the World Health Organization: infections through contact with the coronavirus on the surface of materials is virtually impossible.

There is no way that South Korean balloons could have carried and spread SARS-CoV-2 in North Korea, he reiterated.

Ties between the two countries remain strained amid a long stalemate in US-led diplomacy to convince North Korea to abandon nuclear ambitions in exchange for economic and political benefits.

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