North Korea held a New Year’s performance with crowds of people gathered together despite the country’s “emergency anti-epidemic” efforts against COVID-19. Since the performance, however, suspected cases of COVID-19 have reportedly emerged, including deaths.

A source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on Wednesday that “people showing signs of fever appeared after the celebratory performance for the New Year,” saying that 32 cases emerged just from among attendees hailing from various districts, work units and other organizations.

Starting at 11 PM on Dec. 31, Korea Central News Agency live broadcasted the 50-minute New Year’s celebratory performance at Kim Il Sung Square.

The live broadcast repeatedly showed people packed in the square, yelling out cheers to the singers and dances on stage. All the spectators were wearing masks, but they were gathered in clusters, seemingly unconcerned with the country’s “social distancing” guidelines.

“Cadres, workers and doctors from the Central Anti-epidemic Committee and five quarantine stations, including Junggu District, granted admission [to the participants] after checking if each and every one of them was wearing a mask. They also took their temperature at the entrance an hour before the performance began,” said the source. “Those departing from districts, work units and other organizations had already held their own onsite checks for masks and fever.”

After the event, however, one participant after another began complaining of fever. Two people even recently died after three days of high fever and respiratory difficulties, including a 55-year-old secretary of the party’s local branch in Gyonghung-dong, Junggu District, Pyongyang, identified by his last name of Jo.

covid quarantine
Disease control officials testing drivers for COVID-19 symptoms in Pyongyang’s Manggyongdae District. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

“The people who died were cremated at the crematorium on Mt. Obong and their ashes were returned after a disinfection process,” said the source. “Besides that, people who displayed fever symptoms after the performance have been in home quarantine with their families.”

As for why authorities pressed ahead with the such a crowded event despite ongoing emergency quarantine efforts, the source said the party had ordered measures to “greatly shift the mood” through participation in this year’s New Year performance “with high political enthusiasm” as it was the year of a “noteworthy event that would live long in the history of the Party and the Fatherland [the Eighth Party Congress].”

Meanwhile, North Korea has been repeatedly emphasizing emergency quarantine activities since the start of the new year. Rodong Sinmun called for heightened awareness about the crisis on Jan. 8, calling emergency quarantine activities a “critical revolutionary task” that all checkpoints and workplaces should make their first priority in the new year and exhorting the populace to intensify their efforts until the end of the “global public health crisis.”

The paper said one of the most important factors that would determine whether efforts succeed is a high level of “anti-epidemic awareness” on the part of the entire citizenry. It called on all officials, party members, workers and citizens to obey national emergency quarantine measures and do their public duty in the battle against COVID-19 by “precisely following” quarantine guidelines.

The paper has also been highlighting the importance of quarantine efforts through a series of articles on “model anti-epidemic cases” at the work unit and district level, pointing to their excellent compliance with guidelines and aggressive quarantine measures and efforts.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to