SEOUL, South Korea -- Authorities in North Korea have instructed its people to avoid “alien things” falling near its border with South Korea.
North Korea’s state newspaper Rodong Sinmun published a news report on where the COVID-19 virus came from and pointed the finger at materials that flew in from South Korea. The paper said that two local townspeople showed COVID-19 symptoms after touching "alien things" at the border.
“State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters saw to it that an emergency instruction was issued stressing the need to vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders,” Rodong Sinmun said Friday.
The influx of non-native objects, especially from the southern half of the Korean peninsula, has put North Korea’s border at the highest level of alert for the longest amount of time since the two Koreas separated in 1953. Sending propaganda leaflets and materials in air balloons has been common practice from both sides but Seoul has made it illegal in 2020.
“It appears to be an attempt to raise suspicion among North Korean citizens about the propaganda leaflets, an attempt to spread the false idea that the leaflets are carrying COVID-19,” Hyung Joong Park, head researcher at the Korea Institute of National Unification, told ABC News.
Park also explained that they are forming the narrative that COVID was caused not by failures by the Party but by a premeditated move from the outside.
North Korea has reported over 4,750 cases of "fever" on Friday and claims that, as of Thursday evening, since the pandemic began more than 99.827% of the people who had "fever" have recovered. There is an extremely limited number of COVID test kits in North Korea as the regime has refused to accept foreign assistance to help identify patients.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry responded to North Korea’s accusation and that they see zero possibility of viruses entering North Korea through leaflets from the South, explaining that the timing of the North’s claim of contact with "alien materials" at the beginning of April does not match the timing of leaflet-sending that activists in South Korea say took place in late April.
“South Korea’s Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization is on the same page that it is impossible to be infected with COVID-19 through the virus remaining on the surface of an object, not to mention there isn’t any officially confirmed case of COVID-19 infection through mail or other supply,” Cha Duck Chul, the deputy spokesperson of South’s Unification Ministry told reporters Friday.
On Tuesday, the defector group Fighters For North Korea based in Seoul claim to have flown 20 unauthorized balloons carrying masks, pain relief pills, and doses of Vitamin C in order to send support to pandemic-hit North Korea.
“Accusing the balloon and leaflets from South Korea of spreading virus lays a foundation for North Korea taking extreme measures against balloon launches on the grounds that it is a national security threat,” John Delury, professor at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies, told ABC News.
ABC News' Eunseo Nam and Hyerim Lee contributed to this report.