Did Wind Blow COVID from North Korea to China?

By Alistair Baker-Brian, June 24, 2022

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As the largest city on China’s border with North Korea, Dandong, Liaoning province has always had a close connection with the Hermit Kingdom. 

Like so many things in China nowadays, that connection has not escaped the grip of COVID-19. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Dandong, here’s a very brief introduction: The city of just over two million people lies opposite the North Korean city of Sinuiju, or Xinyizhou in pinyin. 

Prior to COVID-19, the city was abuzz with tourists looking to get a sneaky peak into the world’s most secretive state, or even travel across the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge into North Korea itself.


A peek into the North Korean countryside during a boat ride from Dandong. Image via Alistair Baker-Brian/That's

The city has also been a key trade link between China and North Korea. 

The city’s many attractions include boat rides along the Yalü River, the Broken Bridge which was bombed during the “War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea,” a peek into North Korea from the Hushan Great Wall and much more. 


The Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge which stretches between Dandong and Sinuiju, North Korea. Image via Alistair Baker-Brian/That's

Dandong has, in recent weeks, seen a small outbreak of COVID-19 which emerged towards the end of May. 

It was during this outbreak that a Dandong government WeChat Official Account (丹东发布), or Dandong Press Announcements, issued anti-epidemic advice to the city’s residents on May 31. 

There were all the usual suggestions; where possible, residents should avoid gathering, avoid eating together in large groups, avoid going out, etc. (all the things we’ve become accustomed to over the last couple of years). 

But there was one particular line which caught a lot of attention. 

It noted that on clear days with lower pollution, residents should open their windows to let fresh air in. On days with high pollution, residents should close their windows. 

Nothing odd about that, right? 

But then…

“Residents who live along the river front should not open their windows to the greatest extent possible during southerly winds.” 

Why would this be so? 

A southerly wind in this case means wind blowing from North Korea into Dandong. Given North Korea has had its own outbreak of COVID-19, with almost 400,000 cases of “fever” reported around mid-May, it would appear that residents were being warned of the virus being blown from North Korea. 

So, has the virus really been blown from the Hermit Kingdom into Dandong?

Most likely not. 

Evidence on the effect of wind on the spread of the virus is mixed. In December 2021, Medical News Today cited a study from New York state which concluded higher outdoor wind speeds on warmer days reduced the risk of transmission by up to 45%. 

Another study by the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay concluded that a light breeze of five miles per hour can increase the spread of COVID-19 through coughing, thus, “extending effective social distancing from 3-6 feet to 3.6-7.2 feet, depending on the cough strength,” as reported by Independent

There is no evidence that the virus can be blown by wind across around a kilometer, the approximate distance between Dandong and Sinuiju. 

COVID cases in Dandong are dropping. The latest figures from June 23 showed that six asymptomatic cases were detected in centralized quarantine, while one case was detected in an area already under lockdown. 

Nonetheless, it seems COVID-related Dandong stories just can’t keep out of the news. 

A recent video went viral showing a 41-year-old woman trying to drive her 70-year-old father to a hospital outside of the city. At a police checkpoint, the pair were told they could not drive any further because they had yellow health codes. 

The woman angrily pleaded with the police officer on duty, which led to a physical confrontation. A police statement issued on June 22, a day after the incident took place, stated that the woman in question had been detained for 10 days, while her father was under investigation for allegedly hitting a police officer.

In future, when COVID-19 measures are relaxed, we hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit Dandong. And, instead of thinking about COVID, you can appreciate what the city is really about: a pretty fascinating window into North Korea.

[Cover image via Weibo/@网信丹东]

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