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(LEAD) N.K. trying to seal off border coastal county from outside contact over coronavirus concerns

North Korea 19:44 March 03, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is trying to seal off a western coastal county and surrounding waters frequented by Chinese fishing boats from outside contact in an effort to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading into the country, a state media outlet said Tuesday.

Meari, one of the North's propaganda websites, said that the risk of COVID-19 entering through the county of Kangryong, located just north of the western inter-Korean sea border, is greater than in any other region due to its geographical characteristics.

"Strong efforts are under way to completely seal off and block (the county) from outside contact at sea," Meari said in what is believed to be a reference to efforts to stop the virus from spreading into the country through contact with Chinese fishing boats.

North Korea has not reported any cases of COVID-19 infection since it first broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late December, but it has taken various precautionary measures against the virus to prevent its outbreak.

The move is seen as part of the North's stepped-up efforts to prevent the virus from entering the country.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a politburo meeting of the ruling party, instructing officials to "seal off all the channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way, and strengthen checkups, tests and quarantines."

Since late January, North Korea has closed all ports of entry by land, sea and air as part of its efforts to block the COVID-19 virus from entering the country.

Concerns are lingering that North Korea could be vulnerable as it shares a long and porous border with China and lacks key medical supplies and infrastructure to test and treat infected people.

North Korea, meanwhile, has put at least 7,000 people under quarantine to prevent the new coronavirus from spreading into the country, Seoul's spy agency told lawmakers.

"While North Korea has not yet confirmed the outbreak in the country, South Korea is closely monitoring the situation as people are put under quarantine in Gangwon and Pyongan Provinces," Rep. Lee Eun-jae of the main opposition United Future Party said, quoting the National Intelligence Service as having said during a parliamentary session.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over a politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party to discuss coronavirus prevention measures in this photo captured from the website of the North's Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Feb. 29, 2020. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)


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