North Korea made a country-wide announcement on Apr. 17 that all “unnecessary” imports will be restricted until the end of this year as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Daily NK has learned. 

The announcement, which was not made through television, newspapers, or other state-media outlets, was sent directly to organizations throughout the country. 

Handed down in the form of a “joint decision document” signed by both the country’s Cabinet and communist party’s Central Committee, the announcement declared the implementation of restrictions on imports of “unimportant” items such as seasonings for food and electronics, sources in the country told Daily NK on Apr. 22.

The announcement reportedly referenced concerns about “preventing the spread of the virus,” which it called an “international crisis.” 

North Korea continues to claim that the country is free from COVID-19 infections and the announcement appears to suggest that goods imported from abroad could help spread the virus. 

The announcement also revealed that the number of “national construction projects” will be reduced to just five from an original 15, though it did not mention which specific projects would be put on hold. 

The reduction in the number of large-scale construction projects appears to reflect the fact that North Korea is currently devoting much of its human, material and financial resources to the Pyongyang General Hospital construction project, which is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 10, the 75th anniversary of the founding of the country’s communist party. 

ANNOUNCEMENT SPARKS ANXIETY

Daily NK sources reported that the announcement has sparked anxiety among many people who believe it is an attempt to reduce all imports to almost zero for the time being. 

“People selling [imported goods] are worried about the future. Border guards are also concerned because a reduction in imports will reduce the income they can make through smuggling activities,” another source said. 

The announcement could also lead to the skyrocketing of prices in local markets. Some business people have raised their prices following the order, according to Daily NK sources. This has led to concern among many North Koreans that prices could continue to rise. 

Prices have reportedly been rising at department stores, stories that require foreign currency for purchases, along with stores that sell government-procured products at state-set prices. 

“Families that have major events this year, such as weddings, are panicking to buy up what they need at even though prices are higher than normal,” one source said. 

“[Prices] are already high, but people are anticipating that things will get even worse,” he added.

*Translated by Violet Kim

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.