North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for stronger efforts to guard against coronavirus and warned of ‘serious consequences’ if the deadly bug spreads to the country.
During a meeting of the ruling party, Kim demanded the anti-epidemic headquarters strengthen screening and tests to seal off all ‘channels and space through which the infectious disease may find its way’, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday.
He emphasised that quarantine instructions must be obeyed ‘unconditionally’ and called for the strict enforcement of preventative measures against what he described as a tricky virus that spreads rapidly.
The agency quoted Kim telling the politburo meeting of the Workers’ Party: ‘In case the infectious disease spreading beyond control finds its way into our country, it will entail serious consequences.’
It comes as South Korea again posted a record daily jump in infections, with 594 new cases on Saturday taking the tally to 2,931.
South Korea is grappling with the largest outbreak of the virus outside China, as a new death took the toll there to 17.
The North has yet to report its first infection from Covid-19, but it has been pushing a tough campaign described as a matter of ‘national existence’.
It has shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists, intensified screening at entry points and mobilized tens of thousands of health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.
Experts say an epidemic in North Korea could be dire because of its chronic lack of medical supplies and poor health care infrastructure. But the country’s self-imposed lockdown could also hurt an economy already battered by stringent US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile program.
State media reported that Kim also stressed that the country’s economic goals should be met without fail amid strengthened anti-epidemic efforts.
Across the border, citizens in South Korea were urged to stay indoors amid warnings they were at a ‘critical moment’ in the battle to stop the virus spreading further.
Vice health minister Kim Kang-lip told a briefing: ‘We have asked you to refrain from taking part in public events, including a religious gathering or protest, this weekend.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus has fuelled fears of a pandemic, with six countries reporting their first cases this week as the World Health Organization raised its global risk alert to “very high”.
In China, it has killed more than 2,800 people and infected about 79,000 after it emerged late last year in the central city of Wuhan.
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