The city of Kaesong has been placed on lockdown after a person with symptoms of coronavirus “illegally” crossed the border, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced at an emergency anti-epidemic meeting.
The suspected patient zero reportedly entered the country on July 19, after defecting to South Korea some three years ago. He has since been quarantined, but “several medical check-ups of the secretion of that person’s upper respiratory organ and blood” returned “uncertain results,” according to state news agency KCNA. If confirmed, it would be the first Covid-19 case officially acknowledged by North Korea.
At an emergency meeting on Saturday, top North Korean leadership and health officials discussed the “dangerous situation in Kaesong city that may lead to a deadly and destructive disaster.”
Kim Jong-un said that he “took the pre-emptive measure of totally blocking Kaesong city and isolating each district and region from the other.”
“Despite the intense preventive anti-epidemic measures taken in all fields throughout the country and tight closure of all the channels for the last six months, there happened a critical situation in which the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country,” Kim was quoted as saying, as he instructed all the relevant institutions “at all levels and every field” across the country to be placed on the highest alert.
The lockdown measures in Kaesong are in effect since Friday, KCNA reported, while local authorities are working to trace and test the person’s contacts, as well as “those who have been to the city in the last five days.”
An already extremely isolated North Korea almost immediately shut its remaining cross-border movement back in January, soon after the coronavirus outbreak spread beyond Wuhan, China. As the pandemic infected nearly 16 million people and killed 640,000 in the following six months, Pyongyang has so far reported zero Covid-19 cases.
Just across the world’s most heavily fortified border, South Korea also somewhat managed to keep the epidemic under control, reporting only 14,000 cases and fewer than 300 deaths to date.