North Korea has warned its citizens to stay indoors, saying seasonal yellow dust blowing in from China might carry the new 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 that the virus that causes COVID-19 could spread to North Korea from the Gobi desert, 1,900 km (1,200 miles) away, appears unsupported. Two metres (6 feet) is a common social-distancing metric, although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says droplets containing the virus can sometimes linger in the air for hours.
The North Korean newspaper said citizens should refrain from outdoor activities and must follow prevention guidelines such as wearing masks when they go outside.
North Korea has reported no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a claim that 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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State-run KRT television said on Wednesday the yellow dust and fine dust may contain harmful substances, such as heavy metals and pathogenic microorganisms including viruses.
"People must pay attention to personal hygiene after returning from outside," a news reader said. "Also, workers should avoid outdoor construction work even at reconstruction sites."
On Thursday, the Russian embassy in North Korea wrote on Facebook that North Korea's Foreign Ministry had ordered all visitors to the country and its staff to wait out the dust storm inside.