North Korea has implemented an over-the-top strategy to face down COVID-19. People in this photo are wearing protective clothing while repairing a dyke on the Yalu River. This photo was taken by ASIAPRESS from the Chinese side of the river in October 2020.


North Korean state-run media has been reporting that the number of people showing symptoms of COVID-19 has exploded. However, the real situation in the country is unclear despite the fact that the country has called the penetration of the COVID-19 virus the “biggest emergency incident in the country.” ASIAPRESS heard from a reporting partner in Musan County, North Hamgyong Province, on May 14 about the situation. (KANG Ji-won, ISHIMARU Jiro)

◆ No lockdowns yet

North Korea’s largest iron mine is located in Musan County, a mid-sized city close to North Korea’s border with China with an estimated population of around 100,000 people. “B,” an ASIAPRESS reporting partner, is a laborer at the mine.


―― We’ve heard that there are rising cases of people with fevers. Has Musan County been put under lockdown?

B:  No, there’s been no lockdown. No one is allowed to go to other counties or cities, however. People aren’t even allowed to cross over district boundaries within Musan County, either.


―― Are people allowed to go outside their homes?

B:  People can go outside their homes, but they must wear masks. People are going to work, but are prohibited to eat lunch together at the workplace. Inminban (people’s units) have created quarantine checkpoints to prevent people from moving around.


―― What happens when a person with a fever is discovered?

B:  “Their apartments are locked down. The authorities have explained that with the rise in people with fevers, lockdowns start at the inminban level before moving to the neighborhood (dong) and district (guyeok) levels. When Hyesan was completely locked down in the past, it was a big mess because everything stopped and there were even people who starved. That’s why the authorities are treading lightly with the lockdowns (this time).”

※ When Hyesan was locked down in November 2020 and January 2021, the authorities banned people from leaving their homes and closed the markets, leading to loss of life among those who couldn’t obtain food and medical supplies.


―― Are the markets still open?

B:  The markets are still open as usual. That being said, the authorities said they may close them if the number of COVID-19 cases rise.