North Korea ‘sends 500 workers to patrol Chinese border over coronavirus fears’

In this photo taken on February 6, 2020, workers of Songyo Knitwear Factory in Pyongyang produce masks for protection against the new coronavirus. - At least 31,000 people have been infected and more than 630 killed by the virus following the outbreak which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has spread to two dozen countries. (Photo by Kim Won-Jin / AFP) (Photo by KIM WON-JIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Workers at the Songyo Knitwear Factory in Pyongyang, North Korea, produce masks for protection against the coronavirus (AFP via Getty)

North Korea has sent hundreds of workers to its border with China in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, it has been reported.

South Korean news agency Yonhap said that 500 staff had been dispatched to prevent an outbreak on North Korean soil.

It quoted a report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies that said North Korea’s Red Cross had sent the workers to assist with “quarantine operations” at the border at the government’s request.

The report did not contain details of when and where the staff were sent.

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 6, 2020: Doctors in medical masks and protective suits by an ambulance vehicle at the Munsu-dong diplomatic compound amid an outbreak of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus. The Chinese authorities registered an outbreak of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus in Wuhan in December 2019; as of February 6, 2020, the number of people infected with the new strain of coronavirus has risen over 28,000, with the death toll is over 500. Yevgeny Agoshkov/TASS (Photo by Yevgeny Agoshkov\TASS via Getty Images)
Doctors in medical masks and protective suits by an ambulance vehicle in Pyongyang, North Korea (Getty)

Although the North Korean government in Pyongyang has not reported any cases of coronavirus, there are fears that its weak health system would be unable to cope with the spread of the disease.

Yonhap said North Korea has increased its border controls and checks on Chinese travellers.

The death toll from the virus in mainland China has passed 1,000 people, authorities announced on Tuesday.

The daily number of deaths from the virus has also topped 100 for the first time as the contagion continues to spread.

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Another 108 deaths were reported over the previous 24 hours, the country’s National Health Commission said in a daily update.

That increased the total to 1,016 deaths, while the number of cases rose to 42,638.

The Chinese government has also “removed” a number of senior officials from their posts over their handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Two officials at the Hubei Health Commission lost their jobs, as well as the deputy director of the Red Cross, the BBC reported.

A passenger wearing a full-body protective suit walks out of Beijing railway station in China on Tuesday (AP)
A passenger wearing a full-body protective suit walks out of Beijing railway station (AP)

More than 440 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed outside mainland China, including two deaths in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Of those, 135 are from a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

Japan's health minister Katsunobu Kato said the government was considering testing all of the 3,711 passengers and crew on board the Diamond Princess, which would require them to remain on the vessel until results were available.

In a separate case, a cruise ship has been left stranded off the coast of Thailand after being refused entry because of coronavirus fears, despite having no reported cases on board.

In the UK, the number of people known to be infected with coronavirus is eight.

On Tuesday, Steve Walsh, the Briton linked to 11 cases, released a statement from hospital to say he had “fully recovered” from the illness.