A North Korean city that was put into an “ultra-emergency state” at the end of July after a suspected coronavirus case occurred, according to the country’s state media, more than 550,000 relief supplies were sent on Thursday.
This is despite the continued existence of the hermit kingdom that the disease does not exist within its borders.
The developments come after the person in Kaesong, whom North Korea officials believe may have the virus, was tested and his results, according to Dr. Edwin Salvador, the representative of the World Health Organization, came back as inconclusive.
“Since the ultra-emergency state was declared, more than 550,000 pieces of various materials of over 30 kinds have been urgently shipped to Kaesong City,”
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The ordeal began in late July when North Korea announced it had put in place its “maximum emergency system” to prevent the virus from spreading after a person with COVID-19 symptoms was found in Kaesong, near the border with South Korea.
This person – a North Korean who fled to the south years ago and recently decided to return home – was identified in South Korea as a 24-year-old man with the last name Kim who was not tested positive and never had contact with a patient. South Korean health official Yoon Taeho said.
South Korean police said the man was questioned in June for sexually assaulting a North Korean refugee woman. The man denied the charge. But last month, the police national forensic service said it had found DNA evidence of the attack and that the police had opened further investigations, according to the Gyeonggi Nambu Province Police Department.
In a report to the World Health Organization, North Korea said it had quarantined 64 first contacts of the suspected Kaesong case and 3,571 secondary contacts in government facilities for a period of 40 days, Salvador says.
But now the WHO wants more information about the suspected case, he added.
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While all of this is playing out, North Korea’s borders will remain closed, group meetings are banned, masks are required in public and all educational institutions – including preschools – are on an extended summer break, Salvador told the Associated Press.
And since the end of December, North Korea has quarantined and released 25,905 people, 382 of whom are foreigners, said Salvador.
Many external observers are almost certain that the coronavirus has already entered North Korea as it closed its border with China, its largest trading partner, weeks after the world’s first known virus cases were registered in China in December. Surveillance groups in Seoul have also reported steadfast reports of cases and deaths of North Korean viruses, according to the Associated Press.
A major coronavirus outbreak could lead to a humanitarian disaster due to the broken public health system in North Korea and the lack of medical care.
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However, it is unclear how serious the current situation in North Korea is.
“Although a really wide-ranging local outbreak has not yet occurred, it is likely that significant numbers of people have been infected,” said Hong Min, an analyst of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. “Although North Korea blocks itself, there should be suspected cases and the authorities have to aggressively diagnose them. However, North Korea has never been transparent about whether it has the capacity and the will to do so. “
North Korean state media also said the country had deployed more health workers, cleaned up staff and goods, and used speakers to raise public awareness of the virus.
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The alleged emergency measures suggest that an outbreak there may have worsened, said Kim Sin-gon, a professor at the Korea University College of Medicine in Seoul.
North Korea may also want to get help from South Korea or others, but wants to save the face by saying that the alleged Kaesong case is someone who was in South Korea, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.