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Explained: What is yellow dust, which North Korea has warned could be carrying Covid-19?

North Korea has said the 'yellow dust' blowing in from China can bring with it Covid-19. What is yellow dust? Can Covid-19 be transmitted through dust clouds?

By: Explained Desk | Margao | Updated: October 30, 2020 12:08:22 pm
yellow dust, north korea yellow dust, what is yellow dust, yellow dust covid, coronavirus news, north korea covid, indian expressResidential buildings in Pyongyang, North Korea, October 4, 2017. (The New York Times: Adam B. Ellick, File)

North Korean authorities have urged citizens to remain indoors to avoid contact with a mysterious cloud of ‘yellow dust’ blowing in from China, which they have warned could bring Covid-19 with it.

On Wednesday, the state-controlled media warned that the vicious dust storm would land the next day, BBC reported. Citizens seemed to have complied with the order since, on Thursday, the streets of the country’s capital Pyongyang were reportedly deserted.

North Korea claims it has had no cases of the novel coronavirus, but imposed strict border closures and restrictions on movement of people as early as January.📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What has North Korea said about yellow dust?

During a weather segment on Wednesday, the state-controlled Korean Central Television (KCTV) warned that a cloud of yellow dust would blow in from China and descend on the country the following day. A nationwide ban on outdoor construction work was announced, and all citizens were ordered to remain indoors with their windows tightly closed, BBC reported.

On Thursday morning, the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper urged all anti-epidemic quarantine workers to recognise the danger posed by the “malignant virus entering” the country via the yellow dust.

An article in the newspaper argued that since research from around the world has shown Covid-19 can be “transmitted through air”, the yellow dust cloud must be taken seriously. “Thoroughly preventing damages from the yellow dust… is a pressing task to keep the quarantine front impenetrable,” the article added.

Embassies were also reportedly warned about the incoming dust storm. The Russian Embassy in North Korea even shared a Facebook post urging its staff and visitors in the country to stay at home during the dust storm.

“The DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs has informed our Embassy and other diplomatic missions accredited here, as well as international organisations, that due to the expected approximation of the dust storm, all foreigners in the DPRK are highly recommended from the morning to the end of the day 22 October, exclude the exit to the city and stay home, tightly closing the windows,” its post read.

“According to us, these measures are due to the fact that together with the particles of ‘yellow dust’ a new type of coronavirus can be introduced into the territory of the republic,” the Embassy added.

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yellow dust, north korea yellow dust, what is yellow dust, yellow dust covid, coronavirus news, north korea covid, indian express A weather caster of North Korea’s state-run television KRT appears on screen in Pyongyang, North Korea October 21, 2020, in this still image taken from video. (KRT/Reuters TV via Reuters)

What is this mysterious yellow dust?

Yellow dust is actually sand from deserts in China and Mongolia that high speed surface winds carry into both North and South Korea during specific periods every year. The sand particles tend to mix with other toxic substances such as industrial pollutants, as a result of which the ‘yellow dust’ is known to cause a number of respiratory ailments.

Usually, when the dust reaches unhealthy levels in the atmosphere, authorities urge people to remain indoors and limit physical activity, particularly heavy exercise and sport. Sometimes, when the concentration of yellow dust in the atmosphere crosses around 800 micrograms/cubic meter, schools are shut and outdoor events cancelled in the affected areas.

Can Covid-19 be transmitted through dust clouds?

While the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has said the virus can remain airborne for hours, it has also maintained that it is highly unlikely for the Covid-19 infection to spread in this way, particularly outdoors.

“There is no evidence of efficient spread (i.e. routine, rapid spread) to people far away or who enter a space hours after an infectious person was there,” the CDC said on October 5.

People are most likely to contract the disease by standing in close proximity to an infected person who coughs, sneezes or talks, thus spreading the virus through droplets.

According to NK news, media outlets in South Korea have also dismissed the North Korean reports.

By Friday, the dust had cleared from the Korean Peninsula and the weather department predicted a relatively dust-free weekend, BBC reported.

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