No word of any cases, but North Korea steps up anti-coronavirus campaign

In this photo taken on Feb 6, 2020, people wearing face masks walk in Pyongyang.
In this photo taken on Feb 6, 2020, people wearing face masks walk in Pyongyang.PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (REUTERS) - While North Korea has yet to publicly confirm any cases of the new coronavirus, the authorities have doubled down on prevention efforts, extending quarantines and dispatching Red Cross workers around the country, state media said.

On Wednesday (Feb 12), North Korean media announced that the quarantine period had been extended to 30 days, and that all government institutions as well as foreigners living in North Korea were expected to obey it "unconditionally".

"The spread of the epidemic comes to be a serious problem with the possibility of international disaster," state news agency KCNA said.

Already one of the most closed-off countries in the world, North Korea has stopped airline flights and train service with its neighbours, established weeks-long mandatory quarantines for recently arrived foreigners, suspended international tourism, and imposed a near-complete lockdown on cross-border travel.

Some South Korean media outlets have reported multiple cases and possible deaths from the virus in North Korea, but World Health Organisation officials based in Pyongyang told Voice of America that they have not been notified of any confirmed cases.

State media reported that North Korea's Red Cross Society had been deployed to "relevant areas" around the country to conduct public education campaigns and to monitor people with possible symptoms.

"They are conducting information activities in various forms and by various methods at public places to introduce common medical knowledge about the epidemic and encourage people to give fuller play to the noble moral traits of helping and leading each other forward," KCNA reported.