A dump truck seen on a road near the Chinese-North Korea border heading toward a checkpoint. The guards are wearing masks. This photo was taken in China in July 2021 by ASIAPRESS.

A glimpse into North Korea’s COVID-19 situation (1)

After the North Korean regime acknowledged an outbreak of COVID-19 on May 12, the authorities locked down many cities in the country’s provinces. Markets were closed, causing chaos among people who could no longer find ways to acquire food and fuel. A month later, North Korea is beginning to lift lockdowns in some cities in the northern part of the country. ASIAPRESS received reports on this situation from reporting partners located in the region. (KANG Ji-won / ISHIMARU Jiro)

◆ Certain areas in some cities no longer have bans on movement

Hyesan, a city in Yanggang Province, was completely locked down on May 14, quicker than other areas of the country. In early June, ASIAPRESS received reports on the situation from three people living in and around the area. Another reporting partner, “D,” who lives in a city in North Hamgyung Province, also provided an update about the situation in his area of the country.


―― Hyesan was locked down more quickly than other areas. What is the situation there now?

A:  Certain areas of the city are slowly being reopened. The authorities are saying the lockdowns are being lifted in areas where there have been a lot of people who have recovered from their sicknesses. People living in places with a lot of fever cases are still under lockdown. Disease control authorities have conducted lectures saying that because the COVID-19 situation is still very serious, anyone hiding their illness is a traitor and that all potential symptoms of the coronavirus should be reported.

B:  In the neighborhood I live, the lockdown has been lifted. We can now go outside. The authorities are demanding that we double-mask. Inminban (people’s unit) meetings are held outside our apartment building with everyone wearing a mask. There are still many places that are under lockdown, and people in other apartments still can’t leave their homes. There are still bans on people going to work at factories and companies. The authorities claim we can now go outside, but all we can really do is get some sun.

C:  The lockdowns have been lifted, but the authorities are controlling access to the Yalu River on the Chinese border more strongly than ever. Levees need to be completed on the river to prepare for the rainy season, but this construction work has been delayed. I’ve heard the Chinese have requested that (North Korea) prevent any crossings over the river or smuggling activity from occurring.


―― Are crackdowns on movement still as intense as before?

A:  The crackdowns are continuing. Everyone has to tell guards at checkpoints where they are going and for what reason, and if you are caught walking around without permission you are subject to punishment under the quarantine law. Starting now, however, it seems that only sick people will be put under quarantine. They say that inminban will make sure that those under quarantine can’t leave their homes, but people who are not sick will be able to move around.


―― Has anyone violated the rules?

B:  There have been people who make a ruckus after drinking alcohol, and those who secretly go outside late at night. There’s even people who steal because they have no money. I’ve heard that people caught walking around during the lockdown period will be punished as traitors.


―― Have state-sanctioned markets reopened?

A:  The markets are still closed (as of June 10). I’ve heard rumors that they will reopen in the first part of June. There are occasionally “grasshopper sellers” that pop up here and there in the streets, but because “emergency quarantine teams” are cracking down hard on them, the sellers can’t do much business.

※“Grasshopper sellers” are people who can quickly pick up their wares and change location if local officials appear and try to shut them down.