The World Health Organisation on Wednesday said it had no indications the new coronavirus had spread to North Korea.
Meanwhile, South Korean media reported that there were cases and deaths there that were being covered up by the Pyongyang authorities.
An outbreak of the disease that has killed over 2,000 people in neighbouring China could be devastating for the under-resourced health system in North Korea.
Aid agencies have called for exceptions to be made to international trading sanctions to make it easier if needed to help Pyongyang fight the disease.
“At the moment, there are no signals, there are no indications we are dealing with any COVID-19 there,’’ Dr Mike Ryan, Head of WHO’s emergencies programme, told a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday.
WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, said that North Korea had reported making checks on almost 7,300 travellers entering the country over a six-week period to Feb. 9.
Citing the North Korean health ministry, he said 141 travellers with fevers had been tested for the virus and all had tested negative.
North Korean and WHO officials were due to meet in Geneva later to discuss preparedness.
Jasarevic said that WHO would provide North Korea with supplies including laboratory reagents for tests and protective equipment such as goggles, gloves, masks and gowns for health workers.
Some South Korean media outlets have reported cases and possible deaths from the virus in North Korea, which the North denies.
On Tuesday, Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s ruling party, quoted a public health official reiterating “no confirmed case of the new coronavirus so far’’.
A former North Korean diplomat, who defected to South Korea in 2016, said the ability of the WHO to evaluate the situation in North Korea was probably limited, as its staff and other foreigners would mostly be confined in the capital Pyongyang.
“Recent measures taken by the North Korea regime are abnormal,’’ the former diplomat, Thae Yong-ho, told newsmen in Seoul.
Recently, the U.S. State Department said it was deeply concerned about the possible impact of a coronavirus outbreak in North Korea and was ready to facilitate U.S. and international organisations helping contain the virus there.
Already, one of the world’s most closed-off countries, North Korea has stopped flights and train services with its neighbours, established month-long mandatory quarantines, suspended international tourism and imposed a near-complete lockdown on cross-border travel.
“The government is very anxious as you can imagine, as all governments are, to make preparations and are seeking our technical and operational assistance to help them get ready,’’ Ryan said.