North Korea has closed its borders from foreigners in a bid to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus, refusing the humanitarian efforts of the United Nations, which is prepared to export goggles, thermometers, and stethoscopes to the country to help fight the threat of the virus.
The COVID-19 coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan city of the Hubei province of China, has infected more than 85,400 people globally across more than 50 countries, and claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people. Around 79,000 of the cases have been confirmed in China, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader of the reclusive state (which reportedly has had no confirmed cases of the virus), has instructed the country to “seal off all the channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way, and strengthen check-up, test and quarantine,” in a meeting with officials from the ruling Workers’ Party on Friday, according to North Korea’s Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), Reuters reported.
“In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences,” Kim reportedly said at the meeting. “No special cases must be allowed within the state anti-epidemic system.”
Concerns over the accuracy of the secretive state’s claim that it has yet to report any infections have also been raised, especially given the country borders China, the country where the virus was first identified, and South Korea, the neighboring country that has reported the highest number of cases outside China.
The UN (which on Thursday approved humanitarian exemptions to the current sanctions placed on North Korea in order to assist the county with coronavirus prevention) is unconvinced the country is equipped with a medical and healthcare system robust enough to prevent the spread of the virus or cope with an outbreak.
“The UN’s North Korea sanctions committee quickly approved the shipment of goggles, thermometers, and stethoscopes into North Korea, along with kits to detect if sick persons there have the virus,” Christoph Heusgen, the German ambassador to the UN and leader of the committee told reporters on Thursday. “The committee immediately had given permission to export the equipment. The problem is that right now North Korea has closed the border. Around the table the appeal was made for North Korea to allow this equipment in so that the population can be better protected.”
Around 60 foreign diplomats in North Korea, including from Germany, France and Switzerland, are expected to be evacuated from the country, while all other diplomatic operations have been curtailed.
In pictures released by the KCNA, Kim was seen without a face mask at the meeting and throughout military drills he attended on Friday. All of his aides wore identical black face masks during the drills, Reuters reported. No one at the party meeting wore masks.
The North Korean leader has taken “unprecedented” measures to prevent an outbreak of the virus, including locking ambassadors in their quarters, with state media reportedly demanding “absolute obedience” to the measures, CNA reported.
The state has banned tourists and suspended international trains and flights, while heightened security checks are being enforced at airports, ports and other border regions. Anyone showing symptoms are being placed in month-long quarantine periods, twice as long as the typical 14-day quarantines adopted in other countries, Reuters reports.
Around 380 foreign nationals have reportedly been quarantined, while anyone returning from a recent trip abroad or showing any abnormal symptoms are also being monitored, according to the KCNA, CNN reported.
North Korea is reportedly conducting “great efforts” to prevent the virus from entering the country, carrying out “anti-epidemic activities” and “meticulously pushing ahead with the supply of medicaments, disinfectants, reagents,” according to the KCNA.
Various organizations in the areas along the demarcation line near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) are “keeping strict vigilance to prevent any possible inroads of the epidemic in advance,” the KCNA reported.
China has seen around 79,250 cases of the deadly virus since it was first reported back in December, while South Korea’s total confirmed cases has climbed to more than 3,000.
This week, for the first time ever, the number of confirmed cases outside China exceeded the number of cases within the country, and the virus has now affected every continent except Antarctica.
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