As the number of sick or quarantined soldiers due to COVID-19 rises in the North Korean military, military quarantine facilities are also reportedly suffering from serious shortages of beds and medical supplies. In particular, seriously ill patients who have little chance of survival are being locked away and neglected with little treatment. 

According to a Daily NK source in the North Korean military on Monday, military authorities have established quarantine facilities in temporary buildings next to military hospitals so that medical teams can handle soldiers displaying symptoms related to COVID-19. However, as the number of quarantined soldiers has sharply risen, medical teams cannot treat them due to shortages of not only food, but also water, beds and medical supplies. 

According to Daily NK’s own reporting, the cumulative number of military personnel at military quarantine facilities as of the end of November was 54,620, including 43,000 soldiers, 6,200 seamen and 5,420 airmen. 

Quarantined military personnel receive three meals a day, but all they receive on weekdays is rice mixed with corn, salt broth and cured radish. Moreover, many of the quarantined complain of hunger as the daily amount of rice provided is just 630 grams. On Saturday and Sunday, some facilities serve noodles, but very rarely are protein-rich foods such as meat or eggs included.

There were sufficient beds as recently as the beginning of this year, when military authorities set up their quarantine facilities, but now many soldiers sleep on blanks spread out on the floor due to the shortage of beds. There have even been recent cases of soldiers dying of hypothermia in the facilities.

Additionally, with ventilation banned to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, transmission of other infectious diseases such as skin ailments is reportedly serious. “Patients are unable to frequently wash their clothes, nor are they provided underwear, so many are suffering from scabies,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Lice and nits are serious issues.”

Soldiers can take baths once a week given there are bathtubs in each room; however, the environment of these facilities exposes all the quarantined individuals to infectious diseases.

Above all, the most serious problem is apparently the lack of medical equipment and medicines. The number of quarantined soldiers is skyrocketing; however, due to the lack of medical supplies, medical teams can neither properly diagnose them nor can they do anything for serious cases hovering between life and death.

North Korean soldiers in North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

“If [doctors] judge that the patient has no chance, they just leave them in isolation without treating them, so naturally the number of deaths is rising,” the source said. 

Daily NK found, based on reports from sources, that a total of about 4,180 soldiers have died in military quarantine facilities as of November.

The country’s military authorities not only keep families of quarantined soldiers ill-informed as to where they are being isolated, but also strictly ban quarantined soldiers from making phone calls or sending letters. So if a soldier or officer dies in quarantine, families receive only a letter of condolence.

In accordance with military law, military authorities process the bodies of those who die in the line of duty, so families are unable to receive the remains of their loved ones. 

“As recently as this summer, if a soldier died in a quarantine facility, the body was decontaminated, cremated and handed over to his unit to be buried on a nearby mountain. Now, however, the bodies are being cremated en masse,” said the source. “Because there are too many deaths [these days], starting in September the authorities aren’t even bothering with firing a salute, which is the custom for those killed in action.”

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