North Korea: Balloons From South Brought COVID

The claim is very likely false
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 1, 2022 2:45 AM CDT
North Korea: Balloons From South Brought COVID
North Koran defectors release balloons carrying leaflets condemning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his government's policies, in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea on Oct. 10, 2014.   (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

(Newser) – North Korea suggested Friday its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with balloons flown from South Korea—a highly questionable claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival responsible amid increasing tensions over its nuclear program, the AP reports. Activists for years have flown balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and North Korea has often expressed fury at the activists and at South Korea’s leadership for not stopping them. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said there was no chance South Korean balloons might have spread the virus to North Korea.

The state media report said North Korea’s epidemic prevention center had found infection clusters in the town of Ipho near its southeastern border with South Korea and that some Ipho residents with feverish symptoms traveled to Pyongyang. The center said an 18-year-old soldier and a 5-year kindergartener had contact with “alien things” in the town in early April and later tested positive for the omicron variant. In what it called “an emergency instruction,” the epidemic prevention center ordered officials to “to vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons” along the inter-Korean border and trace their sources to the last. It also stressed that anyone finding “alien things” must notify authorities immediately so they could be removed.

The reports did not specify what the “alien things” were. But laying the blame on things flown across the border likely is a way to ease public complaints about its handling of the pandemic while repeating its objections to the ballooning activities of North Korean defectors and activists in South Korea, observers say. Leafletting campaigns were largely halted after South Korea's previous liberal government passed a law criminalizing them, and there were no public balloon attempts made in early April. In its previous dubious statements on COVID-19, North Korea also claimed the virus could spread through falling snow or migratory birds. Its pandemic-related restrictions even included strict bans on entering seawater.

(Read more North Korea stories.)

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