Earlier this month, North Hamgyong Province’s party committee held a meeting to evaluate the province’s COVID-19 control measures over the past year and to announce future efforts to control the spread of the disease. 

“On May 15, the provincial party committee held a gathering of party and administrative officials, along with business managers, from all around the province,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Monday. “At the meeting, they reviewed the provincial Emergency Anti-Epidemic Committee’s fight against COVID-19 throughout the past year and talked about what to expect in the future.”

The committee also emphasized the need to further tighten the Sino-North Korean border and for North Koreans to continue their “struggle” against the disease.

“Vaccines have been made available throughout the world, but they have side effects and are not effective against variants, so we don’t know how long the fight against the disease is going to last,” according to materials made available during the meeting. The materials further emphasized that North Korea “can’t stand by idly or let its guard down [yet].”

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A picture of Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province, taken in February 2018. / Image: Daily NK

The materials went on to mention the “thousands of transmittable disease-related deaths” that took place in North Hamgyong Province during the past year. The committee reportedly claimed that the deaths were the fault of North Korean officials who were half hearted in their efforts to follow “national anti-epidemic measures.”

“The provincial party committee said that the number of pandemic victims was even higher than the number of people who died in flooding last year in North Hamgyong Province,” the source said. “Officials from party, administrative, and judicial agencies, as well anti-epidemic and medical agencies, were told to take lessons from this and to stop sending up reports expressing concern to the Party anymore.

“The cadres who participated in the meeting and their family members who heard about the lecture afterward said that it was surprising and horrible to hear that [North Korean authorities] announced through the materials that thousands of people had died in North Hamgyong Province,” the source added. 

The materials mark the first time that the provincial party committee has officially acknowledged or quantified the COVID-19 death toll, a move that has shocked people living in the province. 

Daily NK’s source also reported that traders and smugglers are unhappy by the announcement that the authorities intend to tighten control over the Sino-North Korean border even more.

*Translated by S & J

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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.