North Korea's most influential newspaper on Tuesday urged citizens to refrain from gathering at restaurants for meals together to prevent infection of a new pneumonia-causing coronavirus raging in China.

"Talking while eating would become a major route of infection," the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, said in an article, adding, "People should be strictly prohibited from gathering at public places including restaurants."

Pyongyang has claimed that no person has been sickened with the new coronavirus, first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, while stepping up preventive measures such as screening citizens for the virus.

The nation has also cut off traffic to and from China and Russia since earlier this year in the wake of the spread of the new virus, which causes the disease officially known as COVID-19.

The virus has infected more than 75,000 people and killed 2,500 worldwide.

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

In the past, North Korea barred foreigners from entering the country during the 2002-2003 epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

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