After a thorough, detailed investigation, North Korea has determined what caused an explosive outbreak of COVID-19, which has caused more than 4.7 million “fevers” within its borders since late April. Perpetrator: “Foreign things” blown into the country from the south.
According to a report by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea’s outbreak began in early April when an 18-year-old soldier and five-year-old kindergartener contacted “foreign things in the hill” in the area of Ifo. Ri in Kumgang County, which is in the southeast corner of the country near the border. Both later tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and epidemiological analysis found that those cases were entirely behind the nationwide outbreak; The two infections are linked to further spread in Kumgang and from there to the rest of North Korea.
“It was also ascertained,” the report reads, “that as of mid-April the cases of fever in all regions and units of the country except the Ifo-ri region were due to other diseases.” The report did not include any information about how officials came to this conclusion.
The report also gives no indication about the identity of the “foreign things” that allegedly triggered the country’s pandemic. But outside experts in the secretive, authoritarian country suggest the report is merely an attempt to shift blame for the outbreak and invoke fear and hatred of South Korea. For decades, activists and North Korean defectors in South Korea have launched balloons filled with leaflets, aid and other items across the border.
North Korean officials have now issued guidance “emphasizing the need to deal cautiously with wind and other climate phenomena and foreign objects from balloons in areas along the demarcation line and borders.”
SARS-CoV-2 is spread through contaminated objects or surfaces (called fomite transmission) in terms of transmission risks, but the risk is thought to be very low. Some studies have suggested that the chance of getting a SARS-CoV-2 infection from a contaminated surface is less than 1 in 10,000. The primary way the virus spreads is through respiratory droplets between people who are close to each other.
North Korean officials in the region are not the only ones making suspicious transmission claims. Last month, officials in the Chinese city of Dandong – which sits on the border with North Korea – suggested that a wind blowing from North Korea could explain the city’s steady stream of new infections. Although there is no evidence that SARS-CoV-2 spreads through the air over long distances, officials advised border residents to close their windows amid “southern weather”.