The COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea began with citizens coming into contact with “alien things” near the border with South Korea, state media in Pyongyang reported on Friday.
This was found during an investigation by the State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
The authority has urged people to “vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders,” read the report.
While South Korea was not explicitly mentioned, North Korean defector groups often fly balloons from border areas with what Pyongyang calls “propaganda leaflets,” one of the many reasons for tensions between the neighbors.
The report said an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old child were the first to be infected after they “contacted with alien things in a hill around barracks and residential quarters in Ipho-ri early in April.”
Since April, North Korea has reported over 4.7 million “fever cases,” with some 8,130 patients currently under treatment, according to the latest figures reported by KCNA.
Seoul was quick to dismiss the North’s assertions, saying global experts share the “common view” that transmission of the virus from an object’s surface is “realistically impossible,” Yonhap News Agency reported.
“As far as we know, there have been no officially verified cases of coronavirus infection via postal or other materials,” said Cha Duck-chul, deputy spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry.
*Writing by Islamuddin Sajid