A young border guard (left) and an ordinary soldier wear masks and guard behind barbed wire. They are thin. Photographed in July 2021 from the Chinese side of Sinuiju City (ASIAPRESS).


While the North Korean authorities advertise that they are maintaining a "zero coronavirus" policy with no cases of infection to date, they also report to the public that the Omicron variant has caused many deaths in foreign countries due to outbreaks and call for continued vigilance with the "priority on quarantining."

Our reporting partner, who lives in North Hamkyung Province in the northern part of the country, explained that "If you have a fever or cold symptoms, you must report it to the head of the people's group (a local political organization set up similarly to a neighbourhood association.) It is then reported to the 'quarantine command,' which maintains the quarantine system." 

◆ What scares people is poverty, not coronavirus

However, residents are not very aware of the coronavirus threat.

Two years ago, North Korea began implementing strict and excessive quarantine measures against coronavirus. The economic downturn has since worsened and the exhaustion of the residents has become more pronounced. Due to their poverty, the deterioration of their livelihoods due to the excessive controls set up by the authorities is seen as more threatening to them than the invisible epidemic. Therefore, there is an atmosphere of fatigue regarding the prolonged restrictions.

Our reporting partner, who lives in Ryanggang Province, informed us of the following on February 21.

"More and more people are thinking that 'coronavirus has weakened and is just like a common cold,' or that ‘since North Koreans eat a lot of garlic, we don't get infected with coronavirus.'"

It is said that the source of this unfounded optimism is the spread of outside information.

Kim Jong-un regime has closed the border and denied the return of its citizens and the entry of almost all foreigners. Smuggling to and from China has also been largely eradicated. Despite this, information regarding Omicron being less severe and causing fewer deaths has been getting in and appears to be spreading.

It is mainly those who have defected to South Korea who are transmitting the information. They use Chinese cell phones to keep in touch with family members and acquaintances who remain in North Korea. It is believed that the newest information about the coronavirus is passed on to them and is then spread by word of mouth within North Korea.

◆ Authorities Fearing Easing of Vigilance Continue to Stoke "Fear of Coronavirus"

The Kim Jong-un regime, which is unwilling to let its alertness to the coronavirus lapse, continues to stoke "fear of the coronavirus" to an excessive extent through the state media, citing the number of infections and deaths in each country almost every day. For example, on February 22, the Korean Central News Agency published an article titled "Increase in Coronavirus Infections and Deaths in Asia," saying, "In Japan, 4,552,142 people have been infected 22,033 people have died," without mentioning that it is a cumulative total.

This January, the Workers' Party distributed to its cadres a document entitled "Regarding the Continuation and Maintenance of a Mass Quarantine Atmosphere and All-Society Consciousness Unity in Emergency Quarantine Projects." This is because the government is wary of loosening its control  (Kang Ji-won).

※ASIAPRESS contacts its reporting partners in North Korea through smuggled Chinese mobile phones.