North Korean authorities continue to claim the country has had no confirmed cases of COVID-19, yet evidence is mounting that people with coronavirus symptoms are dying after being released from state quarantine facilities.

According to a Daily NK source in North Korea on Tuesday, about 10% of the people who were released from state quarantine facilities in South Pyongan Province after their symptoms improved have subsequently died.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the percentage was revealed through a quiet investigation conducted by the authorities, and that there are large regional variations in the death rate among the released given the fact that the number of quarantined individuals differs from region to region.

North Korean authorities have reportedly established state quarantine facilities to hold people suspected of COVID-19 infections in each province of the country. 

Pyongyang is the exception, however, due to a policy barring the “revolutionary capital” from having coronavirus-related facilities. Nonetheless, a quarantine facility has reportedly been created in the port city of Nampo, which is close to Pyongyang and through which a great deal of the country’s trade with China is conducted.

Within North Korea, these facilities are reportedly called “State Quarantine Facilities for Suspected [COVID-19] Cases.”

covid quarantine
Disease control officials testing drivers for COVID-19 symptoms in Pyongyang’s Manggyongdae District. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

It remains unconfirmed just how many people with suspected cases of COVID-19 are quarantined in the state facilities. However, each facility is reportedly holding anywhere from 50 to more than 1,000 individuals.

North Korean authorities are ordering people with fevers of 37.5 degrees or higher to quarantine at home for 15 days. If they continue to have a fever after that period, they are placed in the state quarantine facilities. Given that people may bribe their way out of forced stays in the facilities, the actual number of people with COVID-19 symptoms is presumably much higher. 

According to a weekly report issued by the World Health Organization on Tuesday, North Korean authorities self-reported that they have conducted COVID-19 tests on 32,512 citizens as of June 1, with all the tests returning negative.

Daily NK understands that when people released from state quarantine facilities die, local security officials quickly dispose of the bodies under strict disease control protocols.

The source claims that nobody — not even family members — is allowed near the bodies, which are quickly cremated.

When someone dies while in these quarantine facilities, family members and friends generally believe COVID-19 is the culprit. Daily NK understands, however, that nobody makes open mention of the coronavirus due to fears of punishment by the authorities. 

Around half of the individuals in these quarantine facilities are eventually released, though the situation reportedly differs from facility to facility.

“About 50% of the people who enter the facilities die, while 50% return home. But this doesn’t mean they were released because their symptoms disappeared,” said the source. “Some were released because their symptoms slightly improved or because they bribed their way out despite their symptoms, and that is why even people who are discharged [from the facilities] continue to die.”

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