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(LEAD) N. Korea urges antivirus efforts amid apparent preparations for military parade

14:26 January 26, 2023

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 8-12; ADDS photo)
By Kim Soo-yeon

SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- North Korea is making all-out antivirus efforts, its official media said Thursday, amid a news report that it has imposed a lockdown on the capital city of Pyongyang apparently ahead of a military parade to mark the army founding anniversary next month.

The Rodong Sinmun, the regime's main newspaper, stressed the need to place the top policy priority on strengthening quarantine efforts, calling on its people to continue fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic with the "greatest sense of vigilance."

"We are making our upmost efforts to maintain and beef up quarantine barriers to prevent any contagious virus from entering our precincts," the paper said. "We are coping with loopholes and spaces that could appear during anti-virus projects."

This file photo, carried by North Korea's Central News Agency on Aug. 11, 2022, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presiding over an emergency quarantine meeting the previous day where he declared victory against COVID-19. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

North Korea observers said the secretive nation seems to be preparing for a military parade on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army on Feb. 8.

The country reported its first case of COVID-19 in May last year, weeks after it held a military parade in Pyongyang on April 25 to celebrate the 90th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Revolutionary Army.

The U.S.-based Radio Free Asia reported Thursday that North Korea has blocked access to Pyongyang from Wednesday through Tuesday as COVID-19 infections were confirmed in the capital city.

Citing an "official notice" issued by North Korean authorities, NK News, which specializes in news on the nation, reported the previous day that the country ordered a five-day lockdown on Pyongyang, effective from Wednesday, due to rising cases of "respiratory illness."

The Russian Embassy in North Korea made public an official letter sent by North Korea's foreign ministry to diplomatic missions in the North over quarantine measures during the five-day "special period" over infectious disease in Pyongyang.

"In relation to the latest rise in patients with seasonal flu and other respiratory diseases, we've notified chiefs of diplomatic missions and international organizations of measures put forward by the national emergency quarantine authorities," read the letter uploaded on its Facebook account.

It added the special quarantine period, effective from Wednesday until Sunday, can be extended by three days, depending on virus situations.

"During the period, we advise all diplomatic missions to make their staff members refrain from going outside and using vehicles when moving out of embassy buildings and residences as much as possible," it said.

The North also recommended they "voluntarily" check body temperatures four times a day and report the results to a designated hospital in the capital by 3 p.m.

The North's leader Kim Jong-un declared victory against the COVID-19 crisis in August last year, but outside experts raised doubts about his claim, given the country's low vaccinations and poor health care system.

This photo, carried by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on June 7, 2022, shows quarantine officials carrying out disinfection work. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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