Kim Jong Un Pig Farm
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the Taechon Pig Farm in April of 2017. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

As more signs continue to appear that the entire swine population in North Korea has become infected with African Swine Fever (ASF), North Korean authorities have still failed to properly alert the population about the disease, Daily NK has learned. 

North Korean authorities are continuing to hold back information on the extent of the outbreak from the regular population, which some experts Daily NK spoke to say will only increase the likelihood of a further spread. 

“A ‘fever’ is rumored to be going around, but the state isn’t talking about it openly,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK on Thursday. “The Central Sanitation and Quarantine Center is managing the situation but isn’t telling the people anything, so people don’t know what’s going on.” 

The source added that North Korean officials never made official warnings during outbreaks of ASF or bird flu in the past, and that orders were handed down to deal with the outbreaks only among those people “in the know.” 

Sources in North Korea Daily NK spoke to, however, said that merchants at local markets and government officials directly affected by the outbreak know that a contagious disease is affecting the country’s pig population. 

“People selling pork in the local markets all know what’s going on,” one source said. 

Most ordinary North Koreans, however, have not received proper information about the spread of the disease. They don’t understand why the pigs they raised are being culled or how to deal with pigs infected with the virus. 

“When bird flu hit the country in the past, everyone buried the birds in the ground, but the very next day people would dig them up and eat them,” another source told Daily NK.

In fact, Daily NK reported during the outbreak of avian influenza in 2017 that chicken was still sold in markets, despite prohibitions on their sale.

“Nobody died from eating the birds, so people will probably just do the same with all the pigs who have been buried,” the source added. 

“I heard on TV some time ago that mass numbers of pigs had died on the streets in a foreign country and people made sausages out of the pigs they found,” another Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK. “People in North Korea think the same way and just try to sell the infected pigs as fast as possible to earn money.” 

North Korea reported the first case of ASF at a pig farm in Usi County, Jagang Province, in late May. Since that case was reported, however, Rodong Sinmun, the country’s main newspaper, has simply published articles about the severity of ASF and damage done to pig farms in other countries. 

Former North Korean government livestock health official Cho Chong Hee, who also works as a researcher at the non-profit Good Farmers, recently told Daily NK that North Korean officials have spread propaganda saying the country has such an outstanding quarantine system in place that ASF or any other kind of contagious disease has no chance of occurring in the country.

“This is why North Korea hasn’t alerted its own population and has failed to effectively manage the outbreak,” she added.

Quarantining requires a great deal of effort on the part of ordinary people, Cho continued, but North Korean officials think they can control the situation by simply establishing emergency quarantine committees.

“Officials know that African Swine Fever will directly impact the supply of food and cause economic damage, but appear to be uncaring about ordinary people given how lax their attitude is,” she said.  

On page six of its September 21 edition, Rodong Sinmun announced another ASF case had been discovered in a pig farm in Paju, South Korea, while also publishing another article that discussed outbreaks in other parts of Asia. The newspaper made no mention of the outbreak of the disease in North Korea. 

North Korea has still failed to respond to South Korea’s proposal to conduct joint efforts to combat the disease. A South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesperson told reporters on Thursday that North Korea has put forward “no special response” to a South Korean proposal made through the Kaesong Inter-Korean Joint Liaison Office on September 18.

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