North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has reportedly declared a state of emergency in North Korea and placed the city of Kaesong on lockdown after a suspected case of coronavirus, believed to be the first confirmed case in the secretive nation.
As Reuters reported, North Korean state media said that Kim convened an emergency meeting after a person who had defected to South Korea returned to the border city of Kaesong and was suspected to have been suffering from COVID-19. The report noted that the North Korean leader called it a “critical situation in which the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country.”
It was not clear if the person was actually infected, as North Korean media said that test results were “uncertain.” As the report added, North Korea has tightened border restrictions since the outbreak of the coronavirus and placed residents under mass quarantine.
The North Korean government has been notoriously tight-lipped about issues of national security, including whether the virus had spread across its borders. Though public health experts said they believed the virus was likely spreading in North Korea as it had in neighboring China and South Korea, the government had not confirmed any cases.
There have been rumors of outbreaks. After reports claimed that Kim had fallen gravely ill or died, he was later seen in a coastal resort city in what some reports said was an effort to escape an outbreak in the nation’s capital. And in May, the news outlet Daily NK reported that there was a spate of what was described as an unknown infectious disease in a region close to the country’s eastern coast.
“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.
The reports suggested that if the outbreak were to have been from coronavirus, it likely was spreading throughout the country as the affected region was far from the Chinese border. The source suggested that North Korea was already taking precautions ahead of a potential outbreak.
“The county has set aside a building to be used as a quarantine facility for the sick people,” the source claimed. “Local police are guarding the road that leads to the isolation facility.”
Health experts warn that because of the substandard medical system and high levels of poverty in North Korea, along with complications in acquiring medical supplies, the spread of the coronavirus could be devastating.