North Korea has reportedly banned people from traveling between regions from early December through the end of next February as a “super-class” quarantine measure against COVID-19. According to a source, however, the ban is not a total one as movement is allowed for some supplies and individuals with permits. 

In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Tuesday, a source inside North Korea said authorities decided to place a “50-day nationwide ban on movement from Dec. 1 to Feb 20.” He said an enlarged meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party “decided [on the measure] internally, and an order was issued the very next day.”

“The leadership stressed that it is a measure to get a final grip on quarantine efforts around the time of the Eighth Party Congress,” he said, adding, “The decision to make the measure last until Feb. 20 was to stress how we should end quarantine activities by that time since [the authorities] believe the virus could spread further during the winter season. It was also aimed at allowing everyone to start with a ‘fresh mindset’ in the agricultural, construction, education and economic sectors from spring.” 

It appears the “enlarged meeting” mentioned by the source refers to the enlarged meeting of the 21st Politburo of the Seventh Central Committee, which was chaired by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Nov. 29.

North Korea’s official Korean Central New Agency made no mention of the travel ban in its reporting on the meeting. 

Korea Central Broadcasting said on Dec. 2, however, that the country’s disease control authorities were “taking strong measures to ensure [people] strictly adhere to the emergency quarantine system and regulations in line with the comeback of super class emergency quarantine measures” and that the “movement of people between regions has been restricted as much as possible and the activities of some work units have been provisionally suspended.”

North Korea’s Emergency Anti-epidemic Law sets out a three-tier warning system according to the speed of transmission and danger level: first class, special class and super-class. At super-class, travel by land, sea and air is prohibited and gatherings and school activities are suspended.

North Korean women bikes support
In this undated photo, North Korean women are seen on bikes near Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

The source said the travel ban did not completely shut off movement because “state-approved individuals and supplies continue to flow across internal borders.”

“Special trains [gucheondae trains] are transporting major national supplies and personnel,” said the source. “The trains are serving personnel who have received state approval or people on business transporting supplies for munitions factories, coal, minerals, timber and other goods required for the 80-day battle.”

“Recently, in fact, there have sometimes been people who have travelled to other regions after getting a permit to do so,” he added. 

Another source in North Pyongan Province said that cadres “reportedly traveled back and forth by train from Sinuiju to Hyesan, Yanggang Province, on Dec. 14” and that “you can travel anywhere as long as you have a permit.”

Daily NK sources suggested that it is impossible for the authorities to completely stop railroad traffic given the country’s reliance on railways.

In Article 1 of the country’s Railway Law, railways are defined as “the arteries of the nation and the vanguard of the people’s economy.” North Korea has accordingly built a railroad-centered transportation network, with roads and maritime routes playing supporting roles.

All this means that North Korea is unlikely to completely suspend rail traffic.

Meanwhile, the source said that North Korea “is not stopping or blocking traffic in [other] public transportation sectors, [either].”

“Downtown public transportation and other means of transportation have not been stopped or suspended,” he said. “There are less for-profit buses going to other regions [than before], but if you have a travel permit, you can use them.”

He added, however, that the number of “checkpoints are increasing between provinces.” This suggests that while there are no limits on movement within cities using public transportation, inspections and crackdowns have been strengthened on people going beyond the borders of different “administrative areas.”

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