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South hopes North will help fight swine fever

June 06,2019
The South Korean government on Wednesday said it will continue to try to get North Korea’s support to prevent the spread of African swine fever after Pyongyang last week reported an outbreak of the disease in its border regions with China.

In a regular briefing on Wednesday, Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said the North had not yet replied to Seoul’s repeated offers to cooperate to contain the disease.

The South put forth the offers through the two Koreas’ liaison office in Kaesong.

On May 25, North Korea notified the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) that it experienced an African swine fever outbreak at a cooperative farm in Chagang Province, just across the Yalu River from China.

African swine fever is a severe viral disease affecting domestic and wild pigs, and there is no cure or vaccine. The fatality rate is believed to be 100 percent.

After initial outbreaks in Europe and Africa, the disease last year spread to China, where it had a devastating impact on the country’s pork industry.

On Saturday, the South Korean government went on high alert after the confirmation of the disease’s outbreak in the North, taking measures to disinfect towns and counties near the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and spraying every vehicle that comes through the custom office with the North.

On Wednesday, the Agriculture Ministry said pig farms in the area have been ordered to install fences, while sterilization facilities have been set up as part of an airtight quarantine to prevent the virus from entering South Korean soil.

According to a diplomatic source, Seoul even discussed mounting a joint disease quarantine effort with the North during a meeting between Lee Dong-ryeol, the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s director of the peace diplomacy planning team, and Alex Wong, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, on Tuesday.

Also reportedly discussed at that meeting was South Korea’s plan to provide international organizations with an $8-million donation to provide nutritional and medical assistance to children and pregnant women in the North, which was approved by an inter-ministerial committee on Wednesday.

It is unclear whether the North will respond to the South’s cooperation proposal, given the lull in dialogue between the two sides since the breakdown of the U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, last February.

Yet signs indicate Pyongyang is on high alert regarding the disease, given the possibility it could aggravate the already alarming food insecurity situation in the country.

On Wednesday, the Rodong Sinmun - the North’s leading state mouthpiece - published a report in the form of an interview with an official from the country’s Academy of Agricultural Science detailing the risks, symptoms and response measures to the disease with scientific accuracy, adding that the economic losses brought on by its outbreak could be enormous.

“Veterinary quarantine efforts are critical to the livestock industry,” the report read. “All departments, entities and families related to the livestock industry and beyond should each devote themselves to preventing African swine fever from spreading.”

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]