(LEAD) North Korea reports 4 new suspected COVID-19 cases after declaring victory in anti-virus fight

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with more details; CHANGES title)

SEOUL, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) — North Korea reported four new suspected cases of COVID-19 in the country’s northeast Ryanggang province on Thursday, according to its official media, just two weeks after the secret country declared victory over the coronavirus crisis which began in mid-May.

Four cases of fever suspected of carrying a “malignant epidemic” occurred in Ryanggang province, bordering China, on Tuesday, the official Korean News Agency (KCNA) said, citing data from the headquarters of the state in charge of epidemic prevention.

Health authorities immediately cordoned off the area, urgently mobilized anti-epidemic teams for testing and took measures to find the cause of the fever outbreak, he added.

The KCNA previously referred to suspected coronavirus patients as “fever” cases.

A Seoul Unification Ministry official said it was too early to confirm whether the latest cases involved a coronavirus outbreak.

In early August, North Korea reported six new cases of fever in North Phyongan and South Hamgyong provinces, but later said the fever was caused by other illnesses like gastroenteritis.

“North Korea is likely to announce more information regarding the four cases reported in Ryanggang province today,” the official said. “As the North has also said it is monitoring the omicron virus closely, we cannot rule out the possibility of a resurgence.”

The official added that the South is still willing to provide coronavirus-related assistance to the North if it accepts the offer.

On August 10, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered the lifting of the country’s “maximum emergency anti-epidemic” measures, three months after the country reported the first confirmed case.

Last month, the North claimed its coronavirus outbreak stemmed from “extraterrestrial things” found near the inter-Korean border, alluding to ballooned materials sent by North Korean defector groups to the South.

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