Daily NK has learned that North Korean authorities lifted the lockdown on the cities of Hyesan and Samjiyon in Yanggang Province after just 18 days.

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Monday that the 30-day lockdown ordered on Jan. 29 was lifted from midnight Sunday. “Local residents can now go about their normal lives,” he said.

Prior to this, North Korean authorities ordered a lockdown for the cities, ostensibly for COVID-19 quarantine reasons, following an incident of smuggling that took place in the region late last year.

Accordingly, the authorities forbid locals from leaving their homes. Not only were people unable to go to work, but markets were closed as well.

Because of this, locals who were already living day-to-day suffered “more than can be expressed in words” during the lockdown. In particular, the source said about 20 families in Hyesan’s Yonbong District “collapsed due to hunger” within the lockdown’s first 10 days.

hyesan leaker bribe elderly smuggling gold yanggang projects phones border
A view of Hyesan, Yanggang Province, in August 2018. / Image: Daily NK

Many locals disobeyed the lockdown as well. Despite threats to unconditionally send people who leave their homes to a month of disciplinary labor, over 30 people were caught wandering about to buy food in Wiyon District alone.

More locals openly expressed their discontent, too. The authorities sold unglutinous rice for KPW 5,000 a kilogram during the lockdown, claiming it to be an act of consideration by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. However, locals angrily accused the government of profiting from them and talking nonsense.

There is speculation that the lifting of what was initially announced as a 30-day lockdown after just 18 days was meant to soothe this local discontent.

In fact, the authorities lifted the lockdown one day ahead of the birthday of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, one of the nation’s biggest holidays. That is to say, the authorities appear to have intended to emphasize the “Supreme Commander” (Kim Jong Un)’s so-called “love for the people.” 

Meanwhile, the order to lift the lockdown reportedly did not apply to Chasong and Manpo in Chagang Province, where a lockdown was ordered at roughly the same time on Feb. 3.

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