May 19 (UPI) -- North Korea may be ordering people with asthma and common cold symptoms into quarantine, according to a Japanese press report.
The Sankei Shimbun reported Tuesday the North Korean decision to isolate patients with asthma symptoms in a facility meant for tuberculosis patients came in early to mid-April. The timing of the decision roughly coincides with Kim Jong Un's sudden disappearance from public life, following a Politburo meeting that reportedly took place on April 11.
The Sankei's source, identified as a male North Korean defector resettled in the South, said he confirmed the quarantine measures with sources in the North residing in different parts of the country, including in North Hamgyong Province.
North Korea has claimed victory over the novel coronavirus and has said there have been no cases of COVID-19 in the country, despite proximity and exchange with China before the outbreak.
Regional authorities may be under pressure to reach a quota under the new quarantine guidelines.
A source in Musan, North Hamgyong Province, said reports of "zero" patients are unacceptable; To show higher authorities the policy is sifting out suspected patients, individuals who exhibit cold or asthma symptoms are being "forcibly quarantined," according to the Sankei.
The measures could be leading to greater confusion in the absence of an effective COVID-19 testing program in North Korea.
Patients with tuberculosis, a highly contagious disease, are included in the quarantine facilities. Authorities also have no way of identifying COVID-19 patients, according to the report.
The report adds North Korea has cut back significantly on informal market activity. Trade is limited and conducted by mobile phones.
North Korea may be facing a serious food shortage. According to South Korea's unification ministry on Tuesday, the North could face a 860,000-ton grain shortage this year, Yonhap reported.