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North Korea raises coronavirus alert to highest level despite 'zero' cases

North Korea is raising its level to the highest stage as new cases continue to be reported in neighboring China. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
North Korea is raising its level to the highest stage as new cases continue to be reported in neighboring China. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 2 (UPI) -- North Korea raised its alert level for the novel coronavirus to the highest of three stages despite state claims of "zero" cases of COVID-19.

Pyongyang's Korea Central Television reported Wednesday the country is "taking strong measures" so citizens "strictly adhere to emergency quarantine regulations." The social distancing rules require restaurants, some stores, public bathhouses and other facilities to close down. Movement is being restricted, state media said.

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North Korean workplaces have also shuttered, according to KCTV. Workers will communicate via "videoconferencing systems" and use networks to "reduce business trips as much as possible," state media said.

North Korea's COVID-19 alert-level system includes three stages. The country is raising its level to the highest stage as new cases continue to be reported in neighboring China, where the government previously claimed "victory" over the coronavirus.

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Pyongyang has claimed there have been no COVID-19 patients since the start of the pandemic, but the country is also ramping up testing. Edwin Salvador, the World Health Organization representative in North Korea, recently told Radio Free Asia the country has been testing on average 1,600 people per week. North Korea has also increased the number of front-line health workers administering the tests, the report says.

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The WHO does not have direct access to the North Korean population. The agency reports numbers approved by Pyongyang, according to the United Nations. The WHO's most recent weekly situation report on COVID-19 in Southeast Asia indicates 8,594 people in North Korea were registered as "suspected cases" since the start of the pandemic, including eight foreigners. A total of 804 people were suspected between Nov. 12 and 19 as a result of "intensified surveillance," according to the WHO.

North Korea is raising the COVID-19 alert level as new claims are being made about vaccines.

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Harry Kazianis, an analyst at the Center for the National Interest, a think tank in Washington, said in a recent statement Kim Jong-un and other top North Korean officials may have been vaccinated for the coronavirus. The information is from Japanese intelligence sources that cannot be identified, Kazianis said.

Beijing's foreign ministry said Tuesday they had not heard of the report and denied knowing of any delivery of Chinese vaccines to North Korea.

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