N. Korea uses market forces to avoid face mask scarcity

Prices of face masks have also decreased significantly in recent weeks, sources say

North Korea suffered a brief shortage of face masks in early February but rebounded quickly to provide an abundant supply of masks, Daily NK sources in the country reported on Mar. 9. 

While demand for face masks in the country has increased significantly over the past month, North Korea has reportedly avoided the same level of shortages suffered by South Korea.

Daily NK sources explained that the reason behind the quick rebound was that North Korean officials let the market manage the supply and demand for face masks, most of which are made out of cotton. 

North Korea’s capital city, Pyongyang, has made wearing a mask mandatory in public and those without masks on the city’s streets are reportedly being stopped by local patrols. 

Face masks are also used by all those North Koreans who appear in photographs of major events published by the state-run media. Government workers and merchants are also commonly seen wearing face masks in local markets and streets outside of Pyongyang. 

Prices of face masks in the country have also decreased in recent weeks. A single face mask in North Korea cost KPW 4,000 KPW before the COVID-19 outbreak and this rose to KPW 6,000 in late January. Now the price of a single face mask has dropped to KPW 2,000 ever since supplies of face masks began flooding the market in mid-February. 

Meanwhile, rice imported from China has decreased in price and is now KPW 5,240 (up from KPW 4,200 in early January). The price of sugar has increased from an average of KPW 1,100 per kilogram to KPW 5,600.

The prices of brown seaweed, mackerel and other seafood products is gradually decreasing. Brown seaweed, which used to sell for KPW 7,000 KPW before the COVID-19 outbreak, has now dropped to about KPW 5,000. 

The lower prices of these commodities can be explained by the increase in domestic stocks of these goods following the halt of trade (both state-to-state and private smuggling) between North Korea and China.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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.