North Korean authorities have reportedly placed the cities of Hyesan and Samjiyon in Yanggang Province under yet another lockdown. The measure is a response to a pair of border residents getting caught smuggling Chinese products into North Korea. With this, locals have suddenly been “imprisoned” once again.

A source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that the government put Hyesan and Samjiyon under another lockdown from 5 PM on Friday. “This lockdown will last 30 days, and all roads within the province and vehicle movement have been blocked,” he said.

“Workers have been banned from going to work, and markets have been shut down for the time being,” he added. “Locals now cannot leave their homes or even move.”

According to the source, the lockdown sprang from a Jan. 27 incident in which two residents of Hyesan smuggled seasonings, sugar and soybean oil from China through the environs of Samjiyon.

However, the illicit transaction became apparent the next day, and provincial Ministry of State Security agents put the two individuals under emergency arrest after a border guard who abetted the smuggling turned himself in.

Things did not end there, however. When the authorities received a report of the incident, they ordered an additional lockdown for the region, ostensibly to “block the entry and transmission of the coronavirus.”

Samjiyon work units rumors
A panorama view of Samjiyon County, Yanggang Province. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

The move suggests the authorities intend to send residents a warning that they will use the COVID-19 situation to completely root out widespread connections between locals and the outside world.

Locals are reportedly dumbstruck by the unprecedented “30-day confinement” order. Among themselves, locals are firstly wondering whether the authorities really needed to keep them at home for 30 days. Essentially, they are accusing the government of “excessive quarantine measures.”

There is also rising concern about the economic impact of the virus. Locals who have heard rumors of starvation deaths during previous lockdowns are complaining that now they must “sit around and starve to death.”

“During the special patrol period at the time of the Eighth Party Congress, the prices of some products climbed as the movement of people and supplies was blocked,” said the source. “Life is desolate even now, and if they don’t guarantee food and firewood, you’ll hear wailing everywhere.”

North Korea had previously placed Hyesan and Samjiyon under lockdown in September due to a smuggling incident, while Hyesan was put under total lockdown in November following a gold smuggling incident that led to a defection.

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at