Following the broadcast of a North Korean health ministry official discussing the symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus on state television on Jan. 21, North Korea has taken measures to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus by banning the entry of Chinese tourists into the country.
Daily NK conducted an interview with a source in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province, on Jan. 26 to better understand how North Korean authorities are dealing with the outbreak of the virus in China.
Q: How are North Korean authorities responding to the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus?
A: As far I as I know, flights in and out of the country have been halted since Jan. 23, and the authorities are conducting meticulous inspections of passengers taking trains [departing from China and] heading for Pyongyang [through Sinuiju].
I’ve heard that even those with just slight symptoms [even light colds] are being quarantined in Sinuiju because there’s no vaccine to fight the virus yet. Supposedly, those quarantined in Sinuiju are forced to stay there for two weeks as a precautionary measure.
[Daily NK was unable to confirm whether North Korean authorities are quarantining all North Koreans travelling through Sinuiju toward Pyongyang, or just those who show potential symptoms of the virus].
Q: This isn’t the first time that North Korea has taken such measures before, right?
A: That’s right. North Korean authorities took harsh measures to deal with SARS in 2003 and Ebola in 2014.
[In 2014, North Korean authorities required all those who returned home from abroad to stay in Sinuiju for 21 days. Even high-level officials such as Choe Ryong Hae and Kim Yong Nam were quarantined in the city].
Q: Do the authorities have any more specific plans for how to deal with a potential outbreak?
A: North Koreans generally travel through Sinuiju [when entering or leaving the country]. There appear to be broader plans to prevent anyone in Sinuiju from going to Pyongyang. There’s no information available about how many people showing even slight symptoms of the virus are being quarantined in Sinuiju; however, I suspect that the authorities will just place any suspected cases in the city’s containment facilities.
All of this, of course, is a big headache for business people who have things to do in Pyongyang. They need to return to the city as quickly as possible, but those caught up in the quarantine in Sinuiju have to stay there for at least two weeks.
Q: Why is North Korea taking such harsh measures to combat a potential outbreak in Pyongyang?
A: There’s no where else in the country that North Korean authorities pay as much attention to as Pyongyang. If there’s an outbreak of the virus in the capital city, that’ll cause problems for them. That’s why all their efforts are focused on protecting it [from an outbreak].
Q: How are North Koreans talking about the coronavirus?
A: People are aware that the virus is causing a lot of social disruption around the world and that it will be a disaster if the virus spreads from China into North Korea. They know that there’s no way to stop an outbreak if it starts, particularly because North Koreans are able to travel around the country more freely than in the past. They also know that North Korean authorities will take a no holds barred approach to containing an outbreak.
The quarantine period for those in Sinuiju is two weeks, so if there’s no sign of an outbreak after two weeks all those quarantined in the city will probably be sent back home.
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