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(2nd LD) N. Korea strengthens checks on entrants from overseas trips to fight coronavirus

All News 11:10 February 03, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES figures in para 8; ADDS unification ministry's remarks on cross-border cooperation in last 4 paras)
By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Feb. 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has strengthened the screening of entrants from foreign countries as part of stepped-up efforts to prevent an outbreak of the new type of coronavirus in the country, state media reported Monday.

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Pyongyang has drawn up measures to put all people coming from overseas trips after Jan. 13 through thorough medical checks and supervision.

North Korea's health ministry "is making measures in a timely manner to block the spread of the disease," the KCNA added.

It also noted that Pyongyang's health authorities are calling for increased hygiene and other preventive measures in the belief that prevention is the best policy at a time when there are no vaccine or treatment drugs.

The move is the latest in a series of measures Pyongyang has taken against the fast-spreading outbreak of the pneumonia-like illness that originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

The North recently shut down all its air and railway routes across its borders with China and decided to keep all foreigners arriving in the country via China isolated for up to one month to prevent the spread of the deadly virus onto its soil.

Last week, North Korea declared the launch of a national emergency system against the new virus, calling such preventive efforts a "political matter" that determines the fate of the country.

North Korea has yet to confirm any coronavirus outbreak, though the virus has been spreading fast in China and many other countries. In China alone, the virus had killed 361 people and infected about 17,000 people as of Monday morning.

In an interview carried by the North's Korean Central TV on Sunday, a health ministry official said while there has been no reported case of the new coronavirus infection, the country should stay vigilant and strive to prevent a possible outbreak.

North Korea is known for having weak medical infrastructure that would be insufficient to fight such an outbreak. Experts say this appears to be causing Pyongyang to scramble to keep the coronavirus at bay for fear that once it enters the country, it could spiral out of control.

Meanwhile, South Korea's unification ministry underscored the need for cross-border cooperation in containing the highly contagious virus, saying that it will propose discussions with the North on the issue at an appropriate time.

"Our government's stance is that it is necessary for quarantine cooperation between the South and the North but we will explore the timing of discussions by looking into the situation in our country and any developments in the North as well," Yoh Sang-key, the ministry's spokesperson, told a regular press briefing.

South Korea has reported 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. Last week, the two Koreas agreed to suspend the operation of a joint inter-Korean liaison office in the North's border town of Kaesong in a precautionary attempt to block its spread across the border.

In 2018, the two Koreas promised close cooperation in combating infectious diseases by such efforts as sharing information, but the North has been unresponsive to Seoul's offers for joint efforts in the field amid chilled inter-Korean relations.

This image, captured from the Korean Central TV in North Korea on Feb. 2, 2020, shows a Ministry of Public Health official speaking in an interview on the new coronavirus. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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