OK, COVID-19 Is Here, North Korea Says

Kim Jong Un declares emergency and shuts down Kaesong
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2020 8:36 AM CDT
North Korea Blames First Virus Case on Returning Defector
People make their way in Kaesong near the border with South Korea on Thursday.   (Naohiko Hatta/Kyodo News via AP)

For the first time, Pyongyang has acknowledged that the new coronavirus has reached North Korea. The nation's first confirmed case prompted the lockdown of a border city and an emergency politburo meeting, Reuters reports. A defector to South Korea, who crossed back to Kaesong this month after three years, shows symptoms of the illness, according to state media accounts. Kim Jong Un declared an emergency and locked the city down. The 24-year-old man has been placed in quarantine, and the government is investigating and isolating people he was in contact with. Kaesong is roughly 100 miles south of the capitol, Pyongyang. South Korea said it's looking at surveillance video from the border to try to identify the man.

"Everyone needs to face up to the reality of emergency," the state media reported Kim told a meeting on Saturday. Isolated and poor, with a badly equipped health care system, North Korea could have an especially tough time with an outbreak, per the Wall Street Journal. Its principal state-run newspaper declared that "national survival" is at risk from the pandemic. Russia is among the nations that have sent tests, but UN sanctions decrease the possibility of outside help, per the Journal, and it's not clear whether the government would accept help from other countries. Entry to foreigners was shut off, as has trade with China, hurting North Korea financially. Construction on Pyongyang General Hospital remains unfinished. An analyst in Seoul said that blaming its neighbor for the presence of the coronavirus could give North Korea cover for accepting help with the coronavirus from South Korea. (More coronavirus stories.)

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