Sinuiju apartments organization
In this file photo, which was taken on the Chinese side of the Yalu River, apartments can be seen being built in Sinuiju's Ponbu District. (Daily NK)

COVID-19 appears to be spreading through North Korea at a frightening speed. Daily NK recently learned from its network of sources in the country that Sinuiju was put under lockdown in early May due to a stream of suspected COVID-19 cases.

According to a Daily NK source in North Pyongan Province on Wednesday, starting in late April, there was a skyrocketing number of Sinuiju residents displaying fevers, coughs, and diarrhea, among other suspected symptoms of COVID-19.

North Korean authorities initially made efforts to prevent public contact with the suspected cases, transporting them to isolation facilities. When suspected cases continued to emerge, however, all of Sinuiju was put under lockdown.

The lockdown lasted one week from May 2 to May 8, with restrictions placed on both private and work-related activities.

Daily NK understands that there was at least one death in Sinuiju during the lockdown. Just how many city residents died remains unknown, but Daily NK’s source said a death occured in a family who had recently failed to acquire food. 

Another individual reportedly died during home quarantine amid the lockdown after suffering from symptoms similar to COVID-19. 

Following a string of deaths, the authorities lifted the city’s lockdown on May 9, the source added. 

The stream of suspected COVID-19 cases in Sinuiju may have impacted the decision to halt international train service between North Korea and China.

North Korean authorities suspended freight train service between Sinuiju and the Chinese city of Dandong from Apr. 29.

Given that the surge in suspected COVID-19 cases occurred in late April, the authorities may have halted the service to focus their efforts on managing a severe public health situation in the city. 

Meanwhile, many Sinuiju residents are refraining from reporting their illnesses to the authorities, even if they suffer from COVID-19 symptoms such as fevers, the source said. 

North Korea’s designated quarantine facilities suffer from poor conditions and fail to provide proper meals. People have no guarantees that once they enter the facilities they will have an easy time coming out, so many try to avoid them.

In fact, another Daily NK source in North Korea said that although he suffered from a swollen throat, fever and diarrhea from May 5, he did not tell the authorities.

“Many of my neighbors were picked up and have yet to reappear after reporting that they had a fever, so I was too scared to let the government know I had a fever, too,” he said.

Given that North Korea suffers from a lack of diagnostic test kits and many people are refusing to report their symptoms to the authorities, the actual numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths may be higher than the totals officially announced by the government. 

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.