North Korean authorities reportedly locked down the border of the city of Kaesong this weekend over a COVID-19 scare. So far, the secluded country has not officially recognized any cases of the coronavirus pandemic within its borders, so if this one is confirmed it will mark the first. According to a report by Al Jazeera, this potential exposure was treated extremely seriously on Sunday.
The Official Korean Central News Agency reported that the nation's leader, Kim Jong Un, convened an emergency meeting to deal with this potential coronavirus outbreak. He sought to implement a "maximum emergency system and issue a top-class alert," adding: "the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country." Kim and other North Korean leaders reportedly took the "pre-emptive measure of totally blocking Kaesong city."
So far, North Korea has not officially confirmed this coronavirus case to the international community, so the nation remains free from the pandemic as far as other countries are concerned. However, KCNA's report indicated that this case is legitimate, and was caused by a North Korean defector returning to the country by "illegally crossing" the border between the two countries.
The border between South Korea and North Korea is one of the most heavily fortified areas in the world, and it is highly uncommon for anyone to try to get across it. However, South Korean military officials admitted there was a "high possibility" someone could have crossed without being seen recently.
In most cases, North Korean defectors escape the country and do not return, but in this case KCNA reported that the defector was coming back from South Korea after years away. They claimed the person re-entered the country on July 19. It is not clear why, though there are widespread concerns about life inside the heavily closed-off North Korea right now, and what life might look like between the pandemic, the economic recession and the potential political upheaval.
KCNA reported that the person who brought the virus into the country was a 24-year-old man who was investigated for rape allegations in South Korea. Local media reports and the testimony of other North Korean defectors seemed to back this story up, according to Al Jazeera.
North Korea's borders have been closed since the coronavirus pandemic began, even as the nation's leaders insisted that there were no cases anywhere in its territory. KCNA reported that this 24-year-old patient in Kaesong "was put under strict quarantine" to stop the outbreak from spreading.