The lockdown recently ordered for Sakju County, South Hamgyong Province, has been downgraded following a tragic incident involving the death of a prematurely born baby.

A source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Monday that people in the city are now able to leave their homes as of 12 AM on Sunday, but that the authorities are “still prohibiting people from going to other cities or counties and banning people from entering Sakju County.”

The downgrading of the lockdown was reportedly due to a tragedy involving the family of a man surnamed Yoon who worked at a submarine battery production factory (Factory No. 29).

On Mar. 2, when the lockdown order was first implemented, employees of the submarine battery factory were instructed to commute to work from their dormitories. Yoon, one of the engineers at the plant, was unable to return home as a result, which left his pregnant wife at home alone. Unable to acquire enough feed to eat, his wife later gave birth to her child prematurely.

Disease control officials, police officials and the head of the local inminban (neighborhood watch-like organizations) were visiting each house in the district for disinfection-related activities when they discovered Yoon’s wife bleeding and in pain.

Yoon’s wife had had a miscarriage before and was in a state where she needed to be careful with her body, but she had been unable to visit any hospital or local medical center after the sudden announcement of the lockdown. With her husband unable to return home, she spent several days alone in pain until her baby was born prematurely.

Yoon’s wife should have quickly been taken to the hospital, but the inminban head said it was impossible to take her to a hospital during the lockdown and instead called on a local midwife to assist the woman. Because the baby could not be placed in an incubator, however, it soon died.

Yoon heard about the death of his child and that his wife was showing signs of “mental illness” due to the shock of losing the baby. He requested to be allowed to return home immediately, but the factory refused, saying that the party had ordered that no one should leave the factory premises.

North Korean soldiers in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province enlistees biological wafare
North Korean soldiers in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

The local branch of the Ministry of Social Security, which had “dealt with” the baby as they saw fit, rejected Yoon’s plea to know where they had buried the infant, saying, “There may be trivial sacrifices on the road to achieving the disease control policies of the Party.”

Several days later, Yoon was found dead at the submarine battery factory. Factory managers claimed that Yoon, fatigued both in mind and body, had died from a fall on the factory floor; however, his colleagues say that Yoon chose to commit suicide after complaining of pain and sadness from the death of his child.

Rumors of the Yoon family tragedy spread throughout Sakju County, and locals began harshly criticizing the lockdown, saying “What kind of quarantine measures would allow a baby to die?” while questioning why the authorities failed to provide proper food rations during the lockdown.

Following this outpouring of discontent, the authorities moved to downgrade the lockdown as part of efforts to assuage public opinion, according to the source.

The inminban head involved in the incident was removed from their position, and the midwife was arrested on charges of allowing the baby to die.

“The midwife arrested by the Ministry of Social Security claims that it was not her fault that the baby was not taken to a hospital, and that the baby died because nobody wanted to take responsibility [for bringing the baby to the hospital] because of the Party’s disease control measures,” the source said. “There are rumors, however, that she will face three years in a re-education camp.”

The midwife’s husband, who is reportedly a “labor innovator” and lay judge, threatened to send a petition to the provincial party secretary, the source said. However, after he realized that his wife would inevitably face punishment, he is now “going to send a petition requesting that her punishment be reduced to a forced labor sentence, which would allow her to maintain her status as a citizen and as a party member,” the source added.

The individual who was the root cause of Sakju’s recent lockdown order was confirmed by North Korean authorities to have lived in China and his case has now moved from the Ministry of State Security to the Ministry of Social Security, and the ministry is currently conducting a preliminary examination, the source further reported.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.