North Koreans in the border region are becoming more lax about disease control measures after two months of heavy state emphasis on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Daily NK has learned. 

Daily NK sources reported on Apr. 3 that North Koreans located on the Sino-North Korean border are feeling less vigilant about disease control procedures given the slowing spread of the virus in China. 

“The authorities aren’t taking the initiative to ensure people wear masks on the street, unless there are huge groups of people gathering,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK. 

MARKET PRICES STABILIZE

While the authorities continue to clamp down on smuggling across the Sino-North Korean border, there are signs that the border remains porous given that the supply of goods in local markets have reportedly increased. 

Market prices are reportedly slowly returning to what they were before the coronavirus pandemic.

For example, the price of one kilogram of gasoline was KPW 12,700 in late March, a drop of KPW 500 from before. Rice imported from China is now around KPW 4,000 per kilogram, a drop of KPW 1,000 from the past month. 

“The prices of mixers and water purifiers have fallen by around KPW 2,000 to 3,000, perhaps in the expectation that the markets will get back to normal soon,” one source said. 

During the height of disease control efforts, North Korea had allowed markets to open every other day to prevent too many people from gathering in small spaces – now, however, these restrictions have disappeared. 

“Even just 10 days ago, market managers would say that merchants can only sell goods every other day. Some merchants just ended up selling goods from their home,” one source said. “Now, the merchants are selling at the markets every day.” 

“Prices in the markets are stabilizing but that doesn’t mean the battle against the virus is over,” one source warned. “Many think the worst has passed, but we still need to worry about [the impact of the virus] on women and old people.” 

STATE MEDIA CALLS OUT “LAX ATTITUDE”

The overall relaxed atmosphere in the border region has been impacted by the fact that the authorities continue to sterilize surfaces and take other disease control measures; moreover, the region has reportedly not been hit with any recent deaths caused by COVID-19. 

North Korea state media, however, has severely criticized the lax attitude people are taking toward the coronavirus pandemic and the regime’s measures to prevent an outbreak. 

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has declared, for example, that the state of emergency in the country needs to be continued “until the epidemic is stamped out across the world.” 

*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.