Some households in North Korea have been cutting back on their consumption due to strengthened quarantine measures aimed at combating COVID-19, Daily NK has learned. 

According to a recent survey conducted by Daily NK on 10 households in the city of Hyesan, Yanggang Province, the average household generally spent up to RMB 8,000 (about USD 1,200) in the first nine months of this year. This represents a 30% decrease from the maximum spending from an average year (RMB 12,000, approximately USD 1,800).

“Trade was stopped soon as the virus spread and the market has also been contracting ever since smugglers stopped their operations,” the source said. “The majority of people have responded to these circumstances by reducing their spending.”

According to him, the country’s “wealthy entrepreneurial class – the donju – are also reluctant to spend money this year.” He further told Daily NK that people think that “trade and smuggling will only be able to proceed as before when the virus is eliminated all over the world.”

commodity prices broker
North Korean merchants sell goods on the fringes of a market in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province in October 2018. / Image: Daily NK

North Korea’s strict COVID-19 control measures led to difficulties for businesses to distribute their goods, and these difficulties impacted the business activities of ordinary people, the source noted. 

“With the decrease in some imported goods, people selling these products in markets have steadily been increasing their prices,” the source explained. “There are many cases where people just avoid buying anything at all at the market [after seeing the prices] unless it’s a necessity.”

There are also signs that kimjang, or the process of making kimchi to eat during the winter months, will be negatively impacted by the fall in consumer spending.

“Chinese cabbage isn’t being imported into North Korea, so most families in border cities have been worrying about kimjang,” the source said. “Some families are already trying to save money by preparing and preserving side dishes with salt.”

*Translated by Gabriela Bernal

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to