As North Korea struggles to stop COVID-19 from entering the country by redeploying military units from the nation’s interior to the border, about 100 members of the elite 11th Corps – part of the so-called “Storm Corps” – have recently been sent to Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province.

According to a Daily NK source in North Hamgyong Province on Monday, a company presumed to be part of the Storm Corps’ light infantry brigade was sent to one of Hoeryong’s border villages on the Tumen River early this month. 

North Korea’s current policy is to unconditionally fire upon people and animals approaching the border. Likewise, military units deployed to border areas to stop COVID-19 have reportedly been ordered to shoot at – without hesitation – not only people approaching the river without permission and people trying to cross the river or defect, but even wild animals.

“Armed personnel from the Storm Corps sent to Hoeryong’s border villages are specializing in hunting wild animals and birds that approach the border,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “In fact, they are shooting wild animals along the Tumen River as soon as they discover them.”

According to the source, the Storm Corps company deployed to the area has been issued hunting weapons, including special “net guns,” and explosives that they are using to “defend” the border.

The border region of North Hamgyong Province as seen in early June 2019. / Image: Daily NK

“Recently, they shot and killed black crows that were flying over the Tumen River into our country from China,” the source said. “Carcasses that fall into the river are allowed to float downstream. All the ones that fall in our territory are burned.”

The source noted that “the soldiers look at this as justified defensive measures, believing themselves to be waging a fierce fight to stop infectious disease from entering the country.”

While there have been a few cases of people transmitting COVID-19 to animals, no evidence has yet been discovered demonstrating that the virus can be transmitted from animals to people. Nevertheless, North Korean authorities are responding aggressively by slaughtering wild animals to stop the disease. 

Locals feel a sense of pity toward the animals, saying, “The animals unknowingly try to cross the border and are shot dead.” But they also betray a sense of fear in the harsh atmosphere on the border. “The Tumen River area is so brutal now [we] don’t even think about going to the riverside,” they say.

“It’s likely that armed soldiers temporarily tasked with special duties [like hunting] will be deployed in companies or platoons not just to Hoeryong but also other major cities in the border region,” the source speculated. 

Quoting a source, Daily NK reported in August that troops had been redeployed from North Korea’s interior to regions bordering China, including the Storm Corps and the Seventh Corps. These troops are reportedly defending the border to stop COVID-19, as well as cracking down on illegal activity such as smuggling and defections.

Meanwhile, North Korea is making disease control a priority of its so-called “80-day battle” ahead of the Eighth Party Congress set to be held early next year. 

An article published on Monday by the Korean Central News Agency reported that the Workers’ Party’s main objective of the 80-day battle is focused on maintaining an “ironclad” front against COVID-19 by intensifying “national emergency anti-epidemic” efforts while strengthening the sense of responsibility and roles of officials in the battles to “protect the motherland” and to “protect the people.”

In a front page editorial on Monday, Rodong Sinmun wrote, “Party members must carry out their responsibility and duty in aggressively conducting emergency anti-epidemic activities.” It added, “Party members must not forget that it is their special mission from the Party to protect the people from an invasion by COVID-19, and they must become a fortress wall, a bulletproof wall that further firms up our anti-epidemic barriers.”

In another article, the paper indirectly called on the country’s people to take active part in “emergency anti-epidemic activities” by introducing several “model” work units actively carrying out these activities.

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to