Daily NK has learned that North Korea recently distributed emergency COVID-19 rules to locals. A source says the materials stressed that residents must stay away from designated danger spots and avoid contact with suspected COVID patients.

A source in South Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that the Emergency Anti-epidemic Command “is issuing emergency orders to residents regarding behavior rules for the coronavirus.” He said the command was conveying “matters of absolute compliance” to locals at all government institutions, enterprises, study groups for party workers and inminban (people’s units).

The source said the emergency order’s most important point was to ban all residents from approaching specific districts, buildings or quarantine facilities marked “Danger: Quarantined.”

“The order also said people must not contact or exchange items with people in those areas,” he said. 

North Korea has long issued severe quarantine rules or responded to suspected cases by putting entire cities under lockdown, confining all residents to their homes. It has also banned residents from approaching the homes of suspected patients, posting signs in front of houses saying the residents are in quarantine. 

The authorities have also moved to prevent people from doing things that go against the law — no fewer than 12 of the national emergency quarantine law’s 70 articles deal with punishments.

However, North Korea’s emergency quarantine law simply explains protocols for disinfecting, guarding and managing quarantine facilities. It does not ban locals from going near them.

There is speculation that a serious quarantine violation or a suspected outbreak may have led to the emergency order.

coronavirus quarantined
North Korean public health workers disinfecting a bus in Sinuiju. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

“Some of the students who took part in the national foundation day event [Sept. 9] are in isolation at the Pyongsong Sanitorium building,” said the source. “[The authorities] are banning contact with those students in particular.”

Daily NK reported that everyone who took part in commemorative events to mark the 73rd anniversary of North Korea’s founding on Sept. 9 were put in isolation. According to the report, about 10 students from Pyongyang’s Civil Defense University were rushed into ambulances after displaying symptoms of COVID-19. 

Locals, too, speculate that the authorities issued the emergency measure because some of the people who took part in Sept. 9 parades fell ill.

“Locals are saying that [the isolated people] might also be people diagnosed as positive for the coronavirus,” said the source. “Some also worry that the infectious disease might be going around their areas.”

The emergency order also included items long stressed by the authorities, including continued mandates on hand disinfecting, masks and social distancing, a ban on touching birds or wild animals and a command that locals avoid touching and immediately report balloons or strange items suspected from entering the country from abroad, as well as items from unknown sources.

Meanwhile, North Korea is reportedly meting out cruel punishments to individuals who violate emergency quarantine protocols. There are many cases of people being sent to political prison camps on charges of “harming the national economy and violating party policy” after they failed to comply with quarantine rules.

With the number of quarantine violators rising, North Korea even appears to be building new political prison camps to bolster the country’s holding capacity.

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.