North Korea declares emergency in border town over first suspected COVID-19 case

Above, Kaesong City, seen across the demilitarized zone separating North Korea from South Korea, where a suspected case of coronavirus was reported. (Reuters)
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Updated 26 July 2020

North Korea declares emergency in border town over first suspected COVID-19 case

  • Kim Jong Un: ‘Critical situation in which the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country’

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency and a lockdown in a border town after a person suspected of being infected with the coronavirus returned from South Korea after illegally crossing the border, state media said on Sunday.
If confirmed, it would be the first case officially acknowledged by North Korean authorities.
Kim convened an emergency politburo meeting in response to what he called a “critical situation in which the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country,” the North’s KCNA state news reported.
A person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned across the fortified border that divides the two Koreas to the town of Kaesong this month with symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, KCNA reported.
“An emergency event happened in Kaesong City where a runaway who went to the south three years ago, a person who is suspected to have been infected with the vicious virus returned on July 19 after illegally crossing the demarcation line,” KCNA said.
KCNA did not say if the person had been tested, but said an “uncertain result was made from several medical check-ups of the secretion of that person’s upper respiratory organ and blood,” prompting officials to quarantine the person and investigate anyone he may have been in contact with.
One analyst said the announcement was important, not only because North Korea was for the first time reporting a suspected coronavirus case but also because it suggested it was appealing for help.
“It’s an ice-breaking moment for North Korea to admit a case,” said Choo Jae-woo, a professor at Kyung Hee University.
“It could be reaching out to the world for help. Perhaps for humanitarian assistance.”
North Korea is under economic pressure because of international sanctions over its nuclear program.
Cho Han-bum, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said it was significant that North Korea was reporting its first suspected coronavirus case was imported.
“North Korea is in such a dire situation, where they can’t even finish building the Pyongyang General Hospital on time. Pointing the blame at an ‘imported case’ from South Korea, the North can use this as a way to openly accept aid from the South,” Cho said.
KCNA did not elaborate on how the unidentified “runaway” had crossed one of the world’s most heavily guarded borders but said the incident was being investigated and the military unit responsible would face “severe punishment.”
The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staffs (JCS) said there was a “high chance” that someone had indeed crossed and the military was checking surveillance footage. It even suggested it might be able to identify the person.
“Our military has specified some people and is verifying facts in close collaboration with related agencies,” the JCS said.
North Korea has received thousands of coronavirus testing kits from Russia and other countries and imposed strict border closures.
Thousands of people in North Korea were also quarantined as it took precautions to prevent a coronavirus outbreak but restrictions had recently been eased.


COVID-19 spread harder to control without common effort says French PM as daily cases double

Updated 11 August 2020

COVID-19 spread harder to control without common effort says French PM as daily cases double

  • French health authorities reported 1,397 new COVID-19 infections over 24 hours on Tuesday
  • New clusters have mushroomed as people let their hair down on holiday, families hold reunions and workers return to offices

PARIS: The renewed spread of coronavirus in France could become harder to control without a collective effort to stop a rise in the infection rate, its prime minister said on Tuesday.
The public was becoming careless, Jean Castex warned, after official data recorded nearly 5,000 new COVID-19 cases from Saturday to Monday. The epidemic has now killed more than 30,300 people in France.
French health authorities reported 1,397 new COVID-19 infections over 24 hours on Tuesday, almost twice Monday’s tally.
The Health Ministry website said there were 15 new deaths in hospital due the disease, compared to an increase of 16 over a three-day period between Monday and Saturday,
“If we don’t act collectively, we expose ourselves to the heightened risk that the rebound in the epidemic becomes hard to control,” Castex said during a visit to a hospital intensive care ward in southern France.
France’s 7-day moving average of new infections climbed to 1,640 on Monday from 1,056 on July 31. The 7-day measure reached a post lockdown low of 272 on May 27, a little over 2 weeks after the government eased one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns.
But as in most neighboring European countries, new clusters have mushroomed as people let their hair down on holiday, families hold reunions and workers return to offices and France is desperate to avoid another full-scale lockdown.
Britain has said it will not hesitate putting more countries on its quarantine list, including France, where hordes of Britons spend their summer vacations.
Earlier on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron held a video conference with top ministers from his Riviera summer retreat.
During the meeting, it was decided France would draw up new restrictions for the 20 largest cities to curb the rising infection rate and that a ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people would be extended until Oct. 31.
Some cities have already taken action. Paris on Monday joined Toulouse, Lille, Biarritz and others in imposing a mandatory face mask order in crowded outdoor zones. They are already compulsory nationwide in shops and banks.
The prime minister said testing was “more than satisfactory,” with more than 600,000 tests being conducted weekly, but said more could still be done to target those with symptoms, the prime minister said.
Talking of the risk of another lockdown, Castex said: “no one wants to live through that again.”