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Daily News Analysis

Explained: Yellow dust, which North Korea has warned could be carrying Covid-19

26th October, 2020 Environment

Context: 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.

North Korea claims it has had no cases of the novel coronavirus, but imposed strict border closures and restrictions on movement of people.

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?

  • 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,”
  • 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.