North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at an emergency consultative meeting of the politburo earlier this year. (Rodong Sinmun - News1)

A source recently told Daily NK that North Korea is forcibly cremating the bodies of people  who have died of suspected COVID-19 infections. Moreover, the country’s authorities are threatening bereaved families with heavy punishments if they bury the bodies of their loved ones in the ground.

A source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Thursday that the authorities are preventing bereaved families from burying family members who died of COVID-19.

“The disease control people swarm in and cremate the bodies of people who died of suspected COVID-19 infections. The government is intimidating families, threatening them with heavy punishments if they go ahead and bury the bodies [themselves],” he said.

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, many nations cremated bodies of COVID-19 victims as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, but were sure to receive consent from the families before doing so. 

In South Korea, the government advised people to “cremate first and hold funerals later” to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading. Only in January 2022 did the government amend its directives to allow people to hold funerals before cremating the bodies. The government explained the cremation process to the families and obtained their permission before moving foward. 

In contrast, North Korea has provided no explanations to bereaved families about funerary arrangements, and has obtained no consent from families who lost loved ones. Instead, it is forcibly cremating the bodies, providing the bereaved no time to mourn. 

“The bereaved are fighting with disease control officials, accusing them of preventing families from doing what they wish with their dead loved ones,” said the source. “In my district, too, many people have died, and the way of dealing with the bodies is entirely the same.

“Few young people have died. It’s mostly malnourished children, old people and families  who have been dying,” he continued, adding, “They never tell us the exact numbers because they’re worried of frightening us.”

Meanwhile, the source said some North Koreans are suffering from the “aftereffects” of COVID-19 infections. 

“Many people suffer severe aftereffects after being released from COVID-19 quarantine,” he said. “They complain that though they have no fever during the day, their temperature rises above 37 degrees Celsius after 5 PM, and they feel the chills and their body hurts. They also suffer from memory loss.”

According to the World Health Organization, most people infected with COVID-19 completely recover, but about 10% to 20% experience one or more of some 200 medium-to-long term symptoms. These symptoms include fatigue, breathing difficulties, depression, anxiousness and cognitive decline.

Interestingly, the source also said somebody in Sinuiju “caught it [COVID-19] three times and recovered three times since late April.”

This is noteworthy as few people suffer reinfections of COVID-19 due to the fact that their bodies develop antibodies after the first infection. Without access to medical institutions that can provide precise diagnoses, some North Koreans apparently believe they have been “reinfected” when they display just a few lingering symptoms.

That being said, there is the possibility that these people have been reinfected due to malnutrition or COVID-19 variants. 

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.