licenses checkpoints
In this file photo, vehicles can be seen stopped at a checkpoint along the riverside in North Pyongan Province. (Daily NK)

North Korean authorities recently ordered guard posts around the country to step up their vigilance and ensure people stay in place during the spread of COVID-19.

“The government has ordered guard posts along the boundaries of every region and province and No. 10 guard posts on [roads going toward] border provinces such as North Hamgyong Province, North Pyongan Province and Yanggang Province to stay on alert and prevent all movement,” a source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on May 16.

According to the source, the North Korean government has called for a transition to a system of complete surveillance and control because it considers bans on movement the most important response to the outbreak of COVID-19. 

Significantly, the authorities have ordered the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Social Security and the State Emergency Anti-epidemic Command to work together to seal off “short-cuts” without guard posts that stretch from South Hamgyong Province to the border provinces of Yanggang Province and North Hamgyong Province with a view to completely shutdown the movement of people and supplies on those routes.

Amid the country’s efforts to reduce the flow of goods as much as possible, local authorities have been asked to think twice before transporting goods that are urgently needed for the state economy, while making an exception for supplies needed to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Ever since the lockdown order was given, North Koreans have been complaining that their struggle to survive has gotten even tougher. The source said that people have trouble seeing the point of a lockdown when they are already on the brink of starvation.

“Not only ordinary people but also officials at the guard posts are outraged by the government’s ban on movement. Officials have had trouble keeping up their lifestyle as bribes dried up during the past two years of the pandemic, which has interrupted business activities,” the source said. “Trade resumed recently, and officials thought that the country’s borders would be reopened, but their hopes have been dashed by the latest crisis.” 

In short, when restrictions on movement were gradually being lifted, guard post officials had been supporting themselves with bribes from traveling business people and trucks laden with goods. Now, they are disappointed to see that the authorities are once again tightening restrictions on movement. 

The Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Social Security are under instructions to ensure the delivery of materials related to state construction projects, including sand, gravel, cement, diesel and gasoline. Officials affiliated with these agencies having to travel around for work are frustrated at the latest ban on movement and regional lockdowns, the source further reported. 

“Despite the restrictions in place, the government is still pushing for materials to be provided for work on state construction projects, and is demanding that both ministries front cash if they can’t provide the materials,” the source said.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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

Read in Korean

Jong So Yong is one of Daily NK's freelance reporters. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.