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6,000 N. Koreans suspected to have COVID-19: WHO

Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang (AFP-Yonhap)
Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang (AFP-Yonhap)
The number of North Koreans suspected of having contracted the new coronavirus reached 6,173 as of Oct. 29, up by 805 from a week earlier, the World Health Organization said Tuesday in its weekly COVID-19 update. The regime still claims zero cases.

The WHO added the North had quarantined 32,182 people and tested 10,272 residents.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang again urged people to remain on the highest alert and to obey all precautions to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

The state newspaper highlighted people’s participation as key in combating the pandemic, noting antivirus measures were not sufficient themselves.

The latest message came as leader Kim Jong-un instructed the country to mount a “perfect coronavirus blockade” and to act on it immediately during a politburo meeting he chaired Sunday.

The isolated country is struggling to keep the deadly virus at bay while fighting to lift its population from poverty, as it nears a party congress in January next year, where Kim is set to reveal a master plan to jumpstart Pyongyang’s moribund economy.

A Seoul official said Tuesday that the North would not ease border controls for the time being, as Kim himself vowed to strengthen antivirus measures and that countries around the world are following the exact same course.

“Nothing seemed out of ordinary there yet,” the official said referring to the border between Pyongyang and Beijing.

The North has closed its borders with China, its largest trading partner, since January this year to prevent the COVID-19 spread, adding strain to the economy already under the UN sanctions.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service told the parliament in August that Pyongyang had launched antivirus efforts in full swing a month earlier, gearing ready to embrace economic fallouts.

“Pyongyang’s economy is headed to see a negative growth this year,” the agency said.

By Choi Si-young (