SEOUL, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- North Korea has lifted a lockdown in and around Kaesong, the border city where its first suspected case of COVID-19 was reported late last month, state-run media said on Friday.
The communist state claims it has had no coronavirus infections. In late July, however, authorities placed Kaesong under lockdown after a 24-year-old who had defected from the North snuck back across the heavily guarded border and was displaying symptoms of the disease when he was caught.
The move to ease the lockdown was made at a meeting of the political bureau of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, helmed by leader Kim Jong Un.
The decision was made "based on the scientific verification and guarantee by a professional anti-epidemic organization," KCNA reported.
Kim was quoted as saying that "it has been proved the situation of anti-epidemic work has been kept and controlled stably."
In his remarks at the meeting, Kim thanked those who had been under lockdown for "having remained faithful to the measure taken by our party and government, despite inconvenience in their living under quarantine."
Kim added that North Korea is currently facing "two challenges: anti-epidemic work to thoroughly cope with the world public health crisis and unexpected sudden natural disaster."
The country has been besieged by heavy rains and flooding over recent weeks. Nearly 17,000 homes and 630 public buildings have been destroyed or inundated and almost 40,000 hectares of crops have been damaged, according to a briefing given at the Worker's Party meeting.
Several roads, bridges and railway sections have also been broken and a dam of a power station gave way, KCNA reported.
However, Kim rejected the notion of accepting international assistance to help with the flood damage, citing the threat of the coronavirus.
"The situation, in which the spread of the worldwide malignant virus has become worse, requires us not to allow any outside aid for the flood damage but shut the border tighter and carry out strict anti-epidemic work," Kim said.
North Korea was the first country to close its borders after the outbreak of COVID-19 in neighboring China, shutting down in late January. Despite its insistence that it remains coronavirus-free, numerous experts around the world have expressed skepticism that the country has managed to avoid the pandemic.