FILE PHOTO: A border sentry at a checkpoint in Sinuiju wearing a gas mask. (Daily NK)

Daily NK recently captured a photograph of border guards wearing gas masks at their posts near the Yalu River in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province. 

The continued rise in COVID-19 infections in China has created concern in North Korea, which appears to have further tightened its border control measures. 

A source in North Pyongan Province recently informed Daily NK that North Korean authorities issued an order in early April for border guards to wear gas masks.

In the order, the authorities mentioned the rising cases of COVID-19 in China as a reason for this new measure. 

The increasing number of COVID-19 infections in China has led that country’s authorities to institute lockdowns in cities near the North Korean border, including Shenyang in Liaoning Province and Changchun in Jilin Province. 

North Korea’s leadership described the DPRK’s efforts to halt the spread of the virus as a “first-priority national project” during the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee in March. Now, the authorities appear to be taking measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus from its neighbor.  

In March of last year, Daily NK captured an image of border guards in Chuggang-eup, Chagang Province, wearing gas masks

At the time, North Korean authorities had ordered soldiers on the border to wear gas masks as part of an order that stated, “COVID-19 has mutated into a ‘protein poison.’” 

According to the source in North Pyongan Province, this is the first time border guards in Sinuiju have been ordered to wear gas masks on the job.

As the number of imports coming through Sinuiju has increased with the resumption of international freight train services in January, the North Korean government appears to be further strengthening measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

Border guards who have been forced to wear the gas masks are voicing complaints, however, saying it is hard to wear the masks while working outside because the weather is gradually getting warmer. 

According to the source, border guards are saying among themselves that “it doesn’t make sense that you could get sick through a virus that comes flying at you in the wind.”

Moreover, border guards are criticizing the order to wear masks, saying that “last year, we were told to shoot birds that entered North Korean territory, while this year we’re not allowed to even breathe the air coming from China.”

Daily NK confirmed that border guards at other posts near Sinuiju are wearing gas masks. However, it is not clear whether gas masks are being worn in other provinces along the China-North Korea border.

Translated by Vilde Olaussen. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

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