The nation of North Korea faces a new potential crisis on its hands: an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Though the communist country has claimed that it is without any cases of the disease, rumors are circulating that there is at least one cluster of COVID-19, suggesting that the virus has the potential to create a major crisis in the Hermit Kingdom.
According to Daily NK, sources claimed that there have been a number of patients in a region close to the eastern coast of the country who are reportedly suffering from an "unknown disease."
"There have been more than 40 people who are suspected of having come down with the infectious disease in Kilju County... along with the Ilsin Coal Mining Village," a source claimed.
Though the number may seem small at present, the fact that the cluster occurred in a region that is far from the Chinese border could spell trouble for the regime, as it suggests that the virus has made its way through the population.
Though North Korean officials continue to deny the presence of COVID-19 in the country, the government is reportedly taking measures against this "unknown disease" similar to those other nations have used against the coronavirus.
"The county has set aside a building to be used as a quarantine facility for the sick people," the source continued.
"Local police are guarding the road that leads to the isolation facility," he added.
Individuals who had suffered from coronavirus-like symptoms had previously been transported to the province's capital city of Chongjin. The fact that patients are now being kept local in a newly established facility suggests yet again that the alleged spread of COVID-19 throughout North Korea is a growing problem.
South Korean intelligence officials have long claimed that the virus could be present in its northern neighbor, citing the large amounts of trade that happen on the Sino-Korean border, which remained in effect until North Korea shut down the border in late January.
However, communist officials remain eager to clamp down on any coronavirus-related rumors.
"The authorities called a meeting with local residents, workers at the preservatives factory and inminban leaders to quiet these rumors about an unknown disease, and forbade the people from talking about the sick people," the source explained.
Recently, experts had suggested that the threat of the coronavirus was behind Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un's recent three-week absence from public events.
Upon his return to public events, Kim began an investigation into corruption in the military. The orders come just weeks after the North Korean leader demanded that certain regions of the country be "war-ready."