Today's Paper Latest Elections Coronavirus 🔵 Covid Classroom Cooking Families Core values Story ideas iPad Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive
ADVERTISEMENT
story.lead_photo.caption Masked people pass a sign Sunday showing the distance to North Korea’s city Kaesong and South Korea’s capital Seoul at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, near the border with North Korea.
(AP/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un placed the city of Kaesong near the border with South Korea under total lockdown after a person there was found with suspected covid-19 symptoms, saying "the vicious virus" may have entered the country, state media reported Sunday.

If the person is officially declared a coronavirus patient, that person would be North Korea's first confirmed case. The North has steadfastly said it has had no cases of the virus, a claim questioned by outside experts.

The lockdown was declared Friday afternoon. The North's official Korean Central News Agency said the suspected virus patient is a runaway who fled to South Korea three 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 coronavirus. It said the person was placed under quarantine. People who had been in contact with the suspected patient and those who had been to Kaesong in the past five days were also quarantined.

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 have dire consequences because of its fragile public health care infrastructure and chronic lack of medical supplies. They are also skeptical of North Korea's claim of having had no infections because the country shares a long, porous border with China, its biggest trading partner, where the world's first known virus cases were reported in December.

Kaesong, a city with an estimated population of 200,000, is just north of the heavily fortified border with South Korea. It once hosted the Koreas' jointly run industrial complex, which has been shut since 2016 amid nuclear tensions.

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

During an emergency Politburo meeting Saturday, Kim also declared a state of emergency in the Kaesong area and "clarified the determination of the Party Central Committee to shift from the state emergency anti-epidemic system to the maximum emergency system and issue a top-class alert," KCNA said.

It quoted Kim as saying there was "a critical situation in which the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country." Kim said he took "the preemptive measure of totally blocking Kaesong City and isolating each district and region from the other" after being told of the suspected patient, according to KCNA.

Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said a thorough lockdown in Kaesong would make it difficult for a potential virus outbreak to spread beyond the city. But he said virus fears would engulf North Korean leaders.

"The anxiety and fears about covid-19 spreading in the North Korean leadership would be much bigger than outsiders can roughly speculate because the country lacks test kits and has virtually no facilities to treat virus patients," Cheong said.

The Politburo meeting also discussed the "loose guard performance" at the border area where the person crossed over to North Korea, KCNA said.

It said Kim and other leaders were briefed on the results of an intensive investigation of a military unit responsible for the border crossing and discussed administering "a severe punishment."

More than 33,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea over the past 20 years, mostly via China. But it is highly unusual for North Koreans to return to their impoverished, authoritarian homeland by crossing the mine-strewn border between the Koreas.

People make their way in Kaesong, North Korea July 23, 2019. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un placed the city of Kaesong near the border with South Korea under total lockdown after a person was found there with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, saying “the vicious virus” may have entered the country, state media reported Sunday, July 26, 2020. (Naohiko Hatta/Kyodo News via AP)
People make their way in Kaesong, North Korea July 23, 2019. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un placed the city of Kaesong near the border with South Korea under total lockdown after a person was found there with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, saying “the vicious virus” may have entered the country, state media reported Sunday, July 26, 2020. (Naohiko Hatta/Kyodo News via AP)
People make their way in Kaesong, North Korea July 23, 2019. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un placed the city of Kaesong near the border with South Korea under total lockdown after a person was found there with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, saying “the vicious virus” may have entered the country, state media reported Sunday, July 26, 2020. (Naohiko Hatta/Kyodo News via AP)
People make their way in Kaesong, North Korea July 23, 2019. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un placed the city of Kaesong near the border with South Korea under total lockdown after a person was found there with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, saying “the vicious virus” may have entered the country, state media reported Sunday, July 26, 2020. (Naohiko Hatta/Kyodo News via AP)
People watch the North Korean territory at the Unification Observation Post in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, July 26, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 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. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch the North Korean territory at the Unification Observation Post in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, July 26, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 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. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus pass by a directional sign showing the distance to North Korea's city Kaesong and South Korea's capital Seoul at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, July 26, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 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. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus pass by a directional sign showing the distance to North Korea's city Kaesong and South Korea's capital Seoul at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, July 26, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 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. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean army soldiers wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus pass by a wire fence decorated with ribbons written with messages wishing for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, July 26, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 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. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean army soldiers wearing face masks to help protect against the spread of the new coronavirus pass by a wire fence decorated with ribbons written with messages wishing for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, July 26, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 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. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends an emergency Politburo meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea Saturday, July 25, 2020. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends an emergency Politburo meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea Saturday, July 25, 2020. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
Hand clean gels are displayed at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, July 26, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 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. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Hand clean gels are displayed at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Sunday, July 26, 2020. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un 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. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second left in the background, attends an emergency Politburo meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea Saturday, July 25, 2020. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second left in the background, attends an emergency Politburo meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea Saturday, July 25, 2020. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends an emergency Politburo meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea Saturday, July 25, 2020. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends an emergency Politburo meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea Saturday, July 25, 2020. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsor Content

COMMENTS - It looks like you're using Internet Explorer, which isn't compatible with the Democrat-Gazette commenting system. You can join the discussion by using another browser, like Firefox or Google Chrome.
It looks like you're using Microsoft Edge. The Democrat-Gazette commenting system is more compatible with Firefox and Google Chrome.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT