North Korean authorities have reportedly ordered the construction of specialized quarantine facilities to manage suspected cases of COVID-19, even as the country continues to claim to have had no confirmed cases so far.

According to a high-ranking source in North Korea on Sunday, North Korean authorities recently ordered the Ministry of Public Health and regional people’s committees to begin preliminary work for constructing specialized quarantine facilities for infectious diseases in all regions except Pyongyang.

The latest order is apparently based on the emergency quarantine law the authorities adopted by way of an ordinance from the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly in August of last year. 

In fact, Chapter 2 of Article 16 of the emergency quarantine law calls on central health authorities, local people’s committees and other relevant bodies to create quarantine facilities “in keeping with quarantine and containment demands” to separate and isolate infectious disease patients, suspected cases and contacts.

North Korean authorities have reportedly included the establishment of the regional quarantine facilities into their five-year economic plan and entrusted the State Planning Commission with overseeing construction.

In accordance with the order, regions are reportedly selecting locations upon which to build the quarantine facilities.

As the main aim is to separate infectious disease patients, suspected cases and contacts from the general population, authorities are prioritizing uninhabited areas far from residential areas.

Meanwhile, a source attributed the sudden order to build specialized quarantine facilities fully a year after the emergency quarantine law was adopted to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un receiving a report on the poor conditions at facilities where suspected COVID-19 patients are currently quarantined.

hospital task forces
Physicians in Pyongyang’s People’s Hospital No. 2 wearing masks. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

North Korean authorities currently isolate people with suspected symptoms of COVID-19 such as high fever and respiratory difficulties at local inns, nursing homes and makeshift facilities.

However, these places are hardly proper quarantine facilities. Moreover, patients not only fail to receive proper treatment due to shortages of medicines, but they are barely fed as well, receiving just rice mixed with corn, salt broth and salted radish. Accordingly, many patients are reportedly dying from hunger and cold.

It is little wonder that locals avoid entering the facilities, with a growing number of people with money or power bribing their way out of them. 

The problem is that with people released from those facilities telling friends and family just how bad conditions are, ordinary North Koreans now know how serious the situation at the quarantine facilities is.

According to the source, authorities carried out a concrete study of conditions at quarantine facilities after North Korean leader Kim received a report on the poor state of affairs.

The source claims that the negligent management of quarantine facilities was one of the reasons for the dismissal of former Central Committee secretary and head of the party’s science and education department, Choe Sang Gon, who oversaw public health. 

Meanwhile, as even ordinary North Koreans receive word of the order to build the specialized quarantine facilities, there is growing concern that serious human rights abuses may follow if the facilities become closed institutions like the country’s political prison camps.

“It appears the quarantine facilities will be run like Hospital No. 49 [for mental patients separated from society] or political prisons,” said the source. “If they are closed facilities where you have no idea what’s going on inside, where you go in but don’t come out, couldn’t even more people be unfairly locked up or die in them?”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.