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Prices rising in North Korea following COVID-19 shutdown

North Korea's commodity prices are being monitored in Seoul, South Korea's unification ministry said Thursday. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
North Korea's commodity prices are being monitored in Seoul, South Korea's unification ministry said Thursday. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Prices may be rising in North Korea as the country seals its borders in response to the outbreak of the new strain of coronavirus in neighboring China.

South Korea's unification ministry said Thursday Seoul is aware the price of certain commodities, including rice, a key staple, have increased since Pyongyang shut down most cross-border activity, Seoul Pyongyang News reported.

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The price of other goods in the North are being monitored but it remains unclear whether they too have risen, the ministry added.

Making those estimates for Seoul "will take time" as the government keeps track of the reduced activity between China and North Korea, according to the report.

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The ministry also said it is likely international organizations are moving toward providing some form of aid. In South Korea, reports recently suggested face masks were in short supply in the North.

Seoul said it supports inter-Korea cooperation on the epidemic, which has killed more than 2,100 people globally. On Thursday, South Korea reported its first casualty, a South Korean man in his 60s, who posthumously tested positive for the virus.

South Korea is reporting more than 100 infections at a time when the North continues to claim zero patients of COVID-19.

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Pyongyang's Rodong Sinmun said Thursday the country "fortunately, has not one case of infection."

O Chun Bok, North Korea's health minister, had recently claimed zero suspected patients on state television, before warning North Koreans against "carelessness" in matters of hygiene.

In 2019, North Korea declined to cooperate on containing African swine fever, despite offers from the South. Pyongyang also filed only one report in May to the World Organization for Animal Health, then declined to provide updates on ASF for the remainder of the year.

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Defectors in the South have said North Korea is deeply unprepared to deal with a deadly outbreak, citing inadequate health facilities and weakened immunity among the population due to decades of malnutrition.

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