North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has placed the city of Kaesong near the border with South Korea under total lockdown after a person was found with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, saying he believes “the vicious virus” may have entered the country, state media reported Sunday.
If the person is officially declared a virus patient, he or she would be the North’s first confirmed coronavirus case.
North Korea has steadfastly said it has no single virus case on its territory, a claim questioned by outside experts.
The lockdown was declared Friday afternoon. The Korean Central News Agency said the suspected case is a runaway who had fled to South Korea years ago before illegally crossing the border into the North early last week.
KCNA said respiratory secretion and blood tests showed the person “is suspected to have been infected“ with the virus.
It said the suspected case and others who were in contact, as well as those who have been to Kaesong in the last five days, were placed under quarantine.
Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” North Korea earlier this year shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned foreign tourists and mobilized health workers to quarantine anyone with symptoms. But the Kaesong lockdown is the first such known measure taken in a North Korean city to stem the pandemic.
Foreign experts say a coronavirus outbreak in North Korea could cause dire consequences because of its poor public health care infrastructure and chronic lack of medical supplies.
Kaesong, a city with an estimated 200,000 people, is located just north of the heavily fortified land border with South Korea. It once hosted the Koreas’ jointly run industrial complex, which remains stalled since 2016 amid nuclear tensions.