People wear masks on the streets of Pyongyang. (Yonhap)
North Korea’s state media on Thursday said it has no coronavirus cases, the first time it has mentioned since the country put the city of Kaesong under total lockdown following the return of the defector with suspected virus symptoms.
“Not a single person has been infected with novel coronavirus so far in our country,” said the Rodong Sinmun, mouthpiece of the North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party.
But the report did not specify whether the defector who North claimed had virus symptoms eventually tested negative for the disease.
The Unification Ministry said “there is nothing to comment” on the North’s latest report and whether it indicates Pyongyang is confirming that the defector is virus-free.
Since January, the communist regime has insisted it has zero COVID-19 cases, but many North Korean observers have doubted the claim.
On Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared a state emergency and ordered a lockdown in Kaesong, claiming a “runaway” returned to the North from South Korea with virus symptoms. Disputing North Korea’s claim, health officials here said it was unlikely the defector had COVID-19.
As of July 16, North Korea has tested 1,211 people for COVID-19, and all tested negative, according to the World Health Organization.
As of now, 696 North Korean nationals have been placed under quarantine in the country over coronavirus fears, most of them are laborers who were working at the Nampo seaport and along the land border between the North’s Sinuiju and China’s Dandong.