North Korea has warned its citizens to stay indoors, saying seasonal yellow dust blowing in from China might carry the novel coronavirus into the country.
“As the new coronavirus infections continue to spread around the world, the need to deal with the yellow dust and take thorough measures has become more critical," North Korea's official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun said on Thursday.
The claim the virus that causes COVID-19 could spread to North Korea from the Gobi Desert, 1900km away, appears unsupported.
“Even by Pyongyang's standards this is pretty bizarre behaviour,” journalist and Asia bureau chief for AFP, Jerome Taylor, noted.
Two metres is a common social-distancing metric, although infectious disease experts say droplets containing the virus can sometimes linger in the air for hours.
In South Korea, where people also guard against yellow dust, health officials did not suggest a link between the dust and the virus.
The North Korean newspaper said citizens should refrain from outdoor activities and must follow prevention guidelines such as wearing masks when they go outside.
The newspaper story came after the state-controlled Korean Central Television (KCTV) broadcast a special weather segments on Wednesday (local time) making the same unusual assertion.
The report claimed the yellow dust and fine dust may contain harmful substances, such as heavy metals and pathogenic micro-organisms including viruses.
According to NK News, almost no citizens were seen on the streets of Pyongyang on Thursday, with sources telling the publication the few people who went outside wore raincoats, despite no precipitation that day.
North Korea has reported no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a claim health experts question.
Pyongyang has imposed strict border controls and quarantine measures to prevent an outbreak.
Analysts say an outbreak could be devastating for the economically and politically-isolated country.
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