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SEOUL, July 1 (Bernama) -- North Korean health authorities have concluded its COVID-19 outbreak originated in an area near the inter-Korean border as local residents came into contact with "alien" stuff there, state media reported Friday.
The move was seen as aimed at ascribing the virus crisis to South Korea and using it for political purposes, according to Yonhap news agency.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) cited a probe into the transmission route of the Omicron variant outbreak, which Pyongyang made public on May 12.
"The investigation results showed that several persons coming from the area of Ipho-ri in Kumgang County in Kangwon Province to the capital city in mid-April were in fever," it said in an English-language article.
"A sharp increase of fever cases was witnessed among their contacts and that a group of fevered persons emerged in the area of Ipho-ri for the first time," it added.
The KCNA added that an 18-year-old soldier and a 5-year-old kindergartener had contact with "alien things" in the area in early April and that they had tested positive for the virus after showing symptoms.
The North's Ipho-ri area borders South Korea's eastern counties of Inje and Yanggu in Gangwon Province.
It added that the State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters issued an instruction 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."
The instruction also called for strengthening the reporting system of the "alien things" and measures to strictly remove them, according to the KCNA.
Although the North did not specify what the "alien things" were, it alluded to balloons often flown by North Korean defector groups in South Korea, carrying such materials as anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets, portable radios and US paper money, over the heavily fortified border.
The leaflets have been a source of tension between the two Koreas, with the Kim Jong Un regime angrily responding to the issue.
The South Korean government immediately dismissed the North's assertion, saying there is no possibility that its coronavirus outbreak is connected with such materials from the South.
There is a "common view" of South Korean and international health care organisations and experts that COVID-19 infection through the virus on an object's surface is realistically impossible, Cha Duck Chul, the unification ministry's deputy spokesperson, said during a press briefing.
"As far as we know, there have been no officially verified cases of coronavirus infection via postal or other materials," he said.
Meanwhile, the North's new suspected COVID-19 cases remained below 5,000 for the second consecutive day, according to state media.
More than 4,570 people showed symptoms of fever over a 24-hour period until 6 pm the previous day, the KCNA said, citing data from the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters.
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