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US expert refutes NK's claim of zero coronavirus infections

A North Korean official is spraying disinfectant somewhere in North Hwanghae Province south of the capital city of Pyongyang. (Yonhap)
A North Korean official is spraying disinfectant somewhere in North Hwanghae Province south of the capital city of Pyongyang. (Yonhap)

A US public health expert has refuted North Korea’s repeated claims of zero infections of the novel coronavirus, saying that Pyongyang could potentially be dealing with domestic transmission of the pandemic.

“It’s really not very conceivable that they aren’t having transmission in North Korea,” epidemiologist Jonathan Mayer from the University of Washington told Voice of America on Thursday.

Pyongyang could not have blocked the transmission, especially if the virus was circulating in China, the health professional said.

North Korea has reiterated several times that it has yet to report an infection in the country. The reclusive communist regime had reportedly quarantined nearly 10,000 people in the country, and at least 8,000 of them have been freed from the isolation.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Saturday the country lifted the quarantine on about 400 foreigners as well, but three of them still remained in isolation over virus concerns.

In early March, dozens of foreign diplomats in North Korea shuttered offices in Pyongyang and left the country, following weeks of “forced quarantine” that confined foreign nationals there to their premises to contain the pandemic.

At the time, Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapport for human rights in North Korea, urged Pyongyang to grant full access for medical and humanitarian experts, since a widespread infection would further jeopardize the already malnourished North Korean population.

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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