As the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak continues to worsen in China, North Korea has reportedly ordered military units guarding the 1,400 kilometer-long Sino-North Korean border to ensure no unauthorized people cross the border, Daily NK has learned.

“The Ministry of People’s Armed Forces [MPAF] handed down an order yesterday [Jan. 29] to strengthen patrols on the border as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the contagious disease [the Wuhan coronavirus],” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK today.

According to Daily NK sources, this was the first time that MPAF – the North Korean military’s main logistics and administrative agency – handed down an order aimed at directly countering a potential outbreak of the coronavirus.

Past orders handed down by the government regarding the coronavirus have focused on establishing effective quarantines and improving personal hygiene.

BORDER PATROL LEADERSHIP EMPHASIZES NEW ORDERS

Daily NK sources reported that officers from the 25th Brigade, which overseas border security in Ryanggang Province, personally met with the heads of individual battalions along the province’s border with China to inform them about the new orders.

“The officers went to sentry posts and told soldiers manning the border that they need to thoroughly prevent anyone, including smugglers and defectors, from crossing the border,” one source told Daily NK.

“They emphasized that the border patrol needs to make the border as airtight as possible,” he added.

The new orders likely mean that smuggling and illegal crossings across the Sino-North Korean border will come to a complete halt for the foreseeable future.

As the first-line of defense at the border, members of the border patrol would likely face punishment if an outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus was to occur in North Korea.

This context may explain why senior officers in the border patrol took the time to share the orders with the leaders of front-line units personally.

PREVENTING AN OUTBREAK AT ALL COSTS

North Korea has taken strong measures to prevent an outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus since announcing that it would restrict the entrance of Chinese tourists into the country on Jan. 22.

On Jan. 26, the country took even more stringent measures to prevent an outbreak by halting the issuance of visas for Chinese tourists, closing down cross-border trade, and suspending the granting of travel documents to North Koreans.

North Korean authorities likely fear an outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus in the country based on past experiences of contagious diseases flowing over the border from China.

These diseases include the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) back in 2003 and, more recently, African Swine Fever, which has reportedly killed most of the country’s pig population.

The first Wuhan coronavirus infection case on North Korea’s border with China was reported on Jan. 26 in Dandong, a Sino-North Korean trade hub located in China’s Liaoning Province. Four more cases were reported in the city on Jan. 27 and Jan. 28.

The outbreak has reportedly led North Korea to halt freight-based trade across the border and to close down its customs office in Sinuiju, which is connected by a bridge to Dandong.

“Disease control authorities in North Korea are emphasizing personal hygiene as the key to prevent the outbreak of the virus while stressing that there’s no cure and that infection can lead to death,” one source told Daily NK.

“If an outbreak occurs, the authorities have indicated that they will quarantine both family members [of those infected] and the village [or area] in which the outbreak occurred,” he added.

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

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Kang Mi Jin
Kang Mi Jin is a North Korean defector turned journalist who fled North Korea in 2009. She has a degree in economics and writes largely on marketization and economy-related issues for Daily NK. Questions about her articles can be directed to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.