SEOUL (AFP) – North Korean authorities have imposed a lockdown on the border city of Kaesong after discovering what they say is the country’s first suspected coronavirus case, state media reported Sunday.
Leader Kim Jong Un convened an emergency politburo meeting on Saturday to implement a “maximum emergency system and issue a top-class alert” to contain the virus, official news agency KCNA said.
If confirmed, it would be the first officially recognised case of COVID-19 in North Korea, where medical infrastructure is seen as woefully inadequate to deal with any epidemic.
KCNA said a defector who had left for South Korea three years ago returned on July 19 after “illegally crossing” the heavily fortified border dividing the two countries.
But there have been no reports in the South of anyone leaving through what is one of the world’s most secure borders, replete with minefields and guard posts.
Pyongyang previously insisted that not a single case of the coronavirus had been seen in the North despite the illness having swept the globe, and the country’s borders remain closed.
The patient was found in Kaesong City, which borders South Korea, and “was put under strict quarantine”, as would any close contacts, KCNA said.
Kim was quoted as saying “the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country”, and officials on Friday took the “preemptive measure of totally blocking Kaesong City”.
Nuclear-armed North Korea closed its borders in late January as the virus spread in neighbouring China.
It imposed tough restrictions that put thousands of people into isolation, but analysts say the isolated state is unlikely to have avoided the contagion.