North Korea launches 'unidentified projectile' amid coronavirus fears

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The projectiles were fired from Wonsan on the country's east coast around 12:37 local time, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reported, and headed towards the Sea of Japan, known in Korea as the East Sea.

In December, the North said it conducted two "crucial" tests at a long-range rocket facility that would strengthen its nuclear deterrent, prompting speculation that it's developing a new ICBM or preparing a satellite launch that would further advanced its long-range missile technology.

Marking the North's first launches this year, it came at rather an "unexpected" time, when the South's and the global community's focus is on containing the rapid spread of COVID-19.

North Korea has not commented on the launch.

But state media have said around 7,000 people have been quarantined in three provinces alone.

Concerns about the spread of that virus - known officially as COVID-19 - last week prompted ROK and US military officials postpone plans to go ahead with a joint computer-simulated "command post training" exercise.

On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the annual joint strike drills off the eastern coast near Wonsan, a day after Seoul and Washington made a decision to put off their annual joint military drills over COVID-19 concerns.

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A diplomatic source, however, is skeptical that Kim would escalate his provocations against the United States, given that the new virus spread has apparently dealt a heavy blow to North Korea's economy.

Monday's launch was the first since North Korea fired what it called "super-large multiple rocket launchers" on November 28.

"However, the absence of testing action in previous months had specialists wondering if the North was holding its weapons screens while pushing a challenging effort against that the coronavirus, which says the press has become an issue of" national presence".

North Korea has refrained from saber-rattling in recent weeks as it focused its attention toward preventing the new coronavirus from spilling over its borders.

North Korea is believed to be vulnerable to infectious diseases against the backdrop of chronic food and medical shortages triggered by worldwide economic sanctions aimed at thwarting Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

One of the biggest conundrums is the timing of the latest launch. when most of the world, including North Korea, is taking special measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. Pyongyang has said the talks broke down as Washington came to the table "empty-handed".

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un recently declared that Pyongyang no longer considered itself bound by its moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

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