(ATTN: ADDS ministry's comments, more info in 6th and last 2 paras)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's official newspaper called Wednesday for a nationwide drive to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, calling such preventive efforts an "important political matter" that could affect national existence.
North Korean media outlets have reported almost daily on the fast-spreading outbreaks of the pneumonia-like illness in China and other nations, and Pyongyang's measures to keep the virus from spreading into the country, though it has not confirmed any case of its own.
"All party organizations should regard efforts of blocking the spread of the new coronavirus as an important political matter that has to do with national existence and strengthen (relevant) political activity," the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling party, said in an article.
The paper also urged party organizations to make "active efforts" on medical supervision, diagnosis, and research and development on treatment drugs with regard to the new virus.
In a separate article, the paper underscored fears of the new virus, saying that Beijing had explained that the coronavirus could be transmitted by someone showing no symptoms and that around 5 million people had left the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the illness, before it was placed on an effective lockdown.
North Korea has beefed up its preventive efforts, putting the country on an "emergency" response posture in an all-out bid to keep the deadly virus at bay.
Pyongyang reportedly has decided to keep all foreigners arriving in the country via China isolated for up to one month as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the new strain of coronavirus in the reclusive country.
The North has also asked South Korean officials working at a joint liaison office in the North's border town of Kaesong to put on masks as part of its beefed-up preventive efforts, according to Seoul's unification ministry. South Korea has reported four confirmed cases of the new coronavirus since early last week.
Asked whether Seoul has any plan to provide support for North Korea, such as masks to help its fight against the virus, Lee Sang-min, the ministry's spokesperson told a briefing on Wednesday that the government will have to watch the situation not just in the North but also in the South, where fears are growing over the spread of the disease.
On Tuesday, the South Korean government said it will provide 2 million masks and other medical relief items to China when it sends planes this week to evacuate hundreds of its people staying in Wuhan.
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