(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details; MODIFIES headline)
SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- North Korea reported four new suspected COVID-19 cases in the northeastern province of Ryanggang, according to its state media Thursday, just two weeks after the secretive country declared victory over the coronavirus crisis that began in mid-May.
Four fever cases suspected of carrying "malignant epidemic" occurred Tuesday in Ryanggang Province bordering China, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, citing data from the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters.
Health authorities immediately locked down the area, urgently mobilized anti-epidemic teams to carry out tests and have taken measures to find the cause of the fever outbreak, it added.
The KCNA previously referred to suspected coronavirus patients as "fever" cases.
An official at Seoul's unification ministry said it is too early to confirm whether the latest cases imply an outbreak of coronavirus.
In early August, North Korea reported six new fever patients in North Phyongan Province and South Hamgyong Province but later said the fever was found to have been caused by other diseases like gastroenteritis.
"North Korea is likely to announce more information regarding the four cases reported in Ryanggang Province today," the official said. "As the North also said it is keeping a close eye on the omicron virus, we cannot rule out the possibility of a resurgence."
The official added that the South is still willing to provide coronavirus-related assistance to the North if it accepts the offer.
On Aug. 10, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered the lifting of the country's "maximum emergency anti-epidemic" measures, three months after the nation reported the first confirmed case.
Last month, the North claimed its coronavirus outbreak originated from "alien things" found near the inter-Korean border, alluding to balloon-carried materials sent by North Korean defector groups in the South.
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