May 20 (UPI) -- North Korea's borders remain tightly sealed and security personnel are carrying out temperature checks, according to a South Korean press report.
A South Korean source with a defector organization told Seoul Pyongyang News on Wednesday the new policy is affecting Musan, North Hamgyong Province, in the wake of a recent COVID-19 outbreak in Jilin Province, China.
North Korea's central government dispatched officers to remote regions, to "investigate corruption among local officials" in order to forewarn of punishment. North Koreans in the border regions are wary of pending crackdowns, the source said.
SP News' source also said defections have become "virtually impossible" following the shutdown of the North Korea border since late January. North Korean and Chinese authorities have stepped up security in response to COVID-19, according to the report.
Prisons in Thailand, where North Korean defectors are held until they are granted asylum to South Korea or a third country, are also "empty" because of the suspended flow of people, SP News says.
North Korea has claimed there have been zero cases of the novel coronavirus, but outside observers remain skeptical.
Marcus Noland, an analyst with the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said Wednesday at a COVID-19 teleconference North Korea has historically concealed bad news. North Korea's border closures could also have delivered a major blow to the economy, Noland said, according to South Korean news service News 1.
North Korea could be seeking sanctions relief amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
In a recent statement addressing the World Health Organization, Pyongyang said "anti-humanitarian" sanctions must be lifted in order to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19, Yonhap reported Wednesday.
North Korea also said in its letter sanctions are discriminatory. Blaming the World Health Organization for the outbreak is "irresponsible," Pyongyang added, without mentioning the United States by name.