A North Korean defector suspected of having fled to his homeland is unlikely to have been infected with COVID-19, despite Pyongyang's claim that he had symptoms of the virus, South Korean's health authorities said on Thursday.

North Korea's state media claimed on Sunday that the defector returned home from South Korea with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, prompting the country to adopt a "maximum emergency system" against the deadly disease, reports Yonhap News Agency. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said they did not find any traces of COVID-19 from 16 samples of items that belonged to the defector.

North Korea Coronavirus

Coronavirus
Chief nurse Ma Jing holds a patient's hand to comfort her in the ICU (intensive care unit) of Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 24, 2020. By Thursday midnight, Hubei Province in central China reported 549 cumulative confirmed cases of the new coronavirus pneumonia, with 495 in Wuhan, the provincial capital. (Xinhua/Xiong Qi/IANS) Xinhua/IANS

Health authorities said they also have not yet found evidence that he had come in contact with virus patients in the South. South Korea plans to carry out COVID-19 tests on eight acquaintances of the defector as well.

"As the defector is believed to have fled to the North on July 19, the peak of the incubation period has also already passed," KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Joon-wook said in a briefing. The defector, who came to South Korea in 2017, is believed to have swam across the border from the island of Gwanghwa after going through a drain. The 24-year-old defector was facing arrest on a court-issued warrant on charges of raping a female acquaintance last month, according to police.