(ATTN: ADDS Seoul official's remarks in last 4 paras)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is beefing up production of facial masks as part of efforts to provide more protection for its citizens and health officials from the new coronavirus fast spreading in China and many other countries, state media reported Wednesday.
North Korea has yet to confirm any case of coronavirus infection, but it is making all-out efforts to prevent its outbreak by strengthening preventive measures.
In an article titled "Let's completely block the new coronavirus," the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling party, reported that factories in Pyongyang are now producing masks "in earnest."
The paper said that tens of thousands of masks are being churned out every day to meet growing demand as citizens are more aware of the danger of the virus and intensifying their personal hygiene.
"As a result of the stepped-up hygiene promotion campaign, all citizens have become more aware (of the danger) and actively participate in efforts to prevent an outbreak of the infectious disease by frequently ventilating their homes, washing their hands and wearing masks," the paper said.
Pyongyang's stepped-up mask production comes amid reports on people in many countries rushing to stock up on masks, hand sanitizers and other personal hygiene items as concerns are deepening over the fast-spreading deadly virus that was detected first in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December.
The paper did not report on any confirmed infection in the North but suggested that there might be some suspected cases in the southeastern region of the country.
"Officials are stationed for those quarantined in (the Kangwon Province) and measures are being drawn up to ensure that they are receiving protective clothes and medical items, such as masks," it said.
North Korea has stepped up its efforts to block the outbreak of the virus by shutting down all its air and rail routes across its border with China and keeping all foreigners arriving in the country via China isolated for up to one month.
North Korea recently declared the launch of a national emergency system against the new virus, calling such preventive efforts a "political matter" that could determine the fate of the country.
The North is known for having weak medical infrastructure that would be insufficient to fight such an epidemic, which experts say seems to send Pyongyang scrambling to keep the coronavirus at bay for fear that once it enters the country, it could spiral out of control.
South Korea is pushing to cooperate with North Korea in fighting the virus, as it wants to help Pyongyang stem its spread across the border. Seoul has confirmed 18 cases of coronavirus infection.
"The government's stance is that it is necessary to cooperate between the South and the North in blocking and coping with the spread of an infectious disease," Yoh Sang-key, the unification ministry's spokesperson, told a regular press briefing.
"But we are currently looking into relevant developments, including the situation in South Korea," he added, when asked if there is any "scenario" by which the government will push for cooperation with the North in jointly fighting the spread of the virus.
Last week, the two Koreas suspended 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.
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