North Korean state media attributed the COVID-19 outbreak in the country to “alien things coming by wind,” and landing close to the border with the South.
Korean Central News Agency said the source of the outbreak was an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old child who came into contact with objects near the border.
State-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper wrote that the soldier and child “came into contact with alien things on a hill close to a barracks and residential quarters in Ipho-ri in April.” The paper urged citizens to “deal vigilantly” with the “alien things,” as well as “other climate phenomena and balloons.”
The term “alien things” is understood to mean balloons sent over the border from the South.
North Korean defectors in the South have dismissed accusations from Pyongyang that balloons floated over the border and carrying medicines, cash and propaganda messages are the cause of the coronavirus pandemic in the North.
Human rights groups have vowed to continue their campaign to deliver medicine and information to North Korea amid a COVID outbreak.
North Korean health authorities admitted their first case of coronavirus on May 12, more than two years after the regime sealed the nation’s borders in what it said was an effort to stop the virus from gaining a foothold in the country.
Since then, almost 25 million cases have been reported, although only a few patients have officially tested positive for the virus.
On May 19, state media reported 262,270 new cases of an unidentified “fever” and one death toll, bringing the official death toll to 63.
As of May 15, there were 240,459 patients treated for the “malignant virus” in Pyongyang.
Pyongyang says 99.98% of its 4.77 million fever patients since late April have fully recovered, but because of an apparent lack of testing, it has not published any data for those who tested positive.
On July 1, North Korean authorities announced that they had found the source of the epidemic in the North, tracing the route of the infection back to the small village of Ipho-ri, some 10 kilometers north of the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula.