Daily NK has learned that North Korean authorities are neither isolating suspected cases of COVID-19 nor properly treating them in some regions of the country. A source said locals are criticizing this by asking whether even COVID-19 quarantine efforts are now exercises in “self-reliance.”

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Friday that authorities stopped isolating patients suspected of COVID-19 or giving them medicine in Hoeryong from Jan. 15. “Now it seems they only check for high fevers,” he explained. “They’ve totally given up on providing proper treatment.”

There are nine quarantine facilities in North Korea where suspected cases of COVID-19 are isolated, with one each in Hwanghae Province, Pyongan Province, North Hamgyong Province, South Hamgyong Province, Yanggang Province, Chagang Province, Gangwon Province, Nampo and Rason.

However, the source said that even at these facilities, patients are simply isolated; they receive neither diagnosis nor treatment. From the new year, even this has apparently collapsed, with one sensing that COVID-19 has become a matter for “self-reliance.”

From the middle of January, regional doctors have been visiting families once or twice a day, from 9:30 to 10:00 in the morning or from 3:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon. They check for fever or other symptoms, reporting the results to local hospitals and quarantine stations.

humanitarian support vaccines
North Korean state media reported on Jan. 30, 2020, that it was making every effort to combat an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

During this process as well, however, things do not go beyond “checking.” People who complain of fever are not sent to a quarantine facility, but rather are ordered to isolate at home. The source said doctors provide prescriptions for cold medicine and the fever remedy paracetamol, but they are not providing the medications.

Naturally, drug prices in markets have skyrocketed. Cold medicine that used to cost KPW 100 now reportedly costs KPW 600, while the price of paracetamol has climbed from KPW 80 to KPW 400.

Local residents are dumbfounded by the “semi-abandoned” quarantine efforts. Complaints are emerging everywhere, with locals asking why doctors should visit their homes when they will not do anything for them and begging that they be allowed to buy medicine.

“People who had hoped life would improve after the party congress are unable to hide their despondency over being asked to handle even coronavirus treatment through self-reliance,” said the source. “If this is going to be the case, don’t they have to open the border so that people can purchase and take coronavirus treatments on their own?

“As was presented during the party congress, self-reliance will be the way this year in both our livelihoods and coronavirus quarantine efforts,” he continued, adding, “But how can you tell somebody to be self-reliant after binding them up so tightly that they can’t budge an inch?”

Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his report on the work of the Central Committee from Jan. 5 to 7 that “[t]he main seed and theme of the [five-year plan for the national economic development] are, as always, self-reliance and self-sufficiency.” He also called for “propelling economic construction in a planned and stable way irrespective of the change in the external environment.”

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