A photo published in state media on May 31 of North Korean officials wearing protective suits. (Rodong Sinmun-News1)

This is a time of great difficulty for the people of North Korea. As people come down with fevers because of COVID-19 not only in the capital of Pyongyang but throughout the country’s rural areas, North Koreans are trapped in a horrifying nightmare.

That’s not the only problem, though. As death claims both the young and the old, the piercing wails of the bereaved can be heard throughout the cities and countryside.

In that situation, the leadership of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) has adopted a lockdown policy that people are expected to enthusiastically enforce on their own. The authorities have even deliberately inculcated fear by comparing the pandemic to the bombardment and bloodshed of a war.

“People’s true feelings are revealed when times are hard, and the true value of social institutions become clear in times of turmoil,” the WPK leadership said as part of its propaganda campaign. In effect, the party insists that “loyalty” consists of enduring and persevering despite sickness and hunger, and even in the absence of food and medicine.

In a society that guarantees human rights, the first step taken when times are tough is to protect the public. For example, South Korea and many countries in Europe provided emergency disaster aid to the public and gave extra aid to small business owners to stimulate the market.

But what about North Korea? The country’s leadership has only stressed the severity of the situation, while shifting all responsibility to the public. The person called the Supreme Leader has even praised the Chinese approach as being a good model. In areas that are under a complete lockdown, people are not even allowed to leave their homes. As the government wages war against the pandemic, more people are dying of starvation than of the disease itself.

The pandemic-induced shortage of food and medication is threatening North Koreans’ very survival. Reports are coming in from various places that the first to succumb are the weak and frail, including children and the elderly. That’s the consequence of a chronic disregard for human rights.

Some have even lost the will to live. After coming down with a fever, elderly people in some areas have been left totally helpless — no medicine to take, no food to eat, no money for medical care, not even the strength to take their own lives. It is heartbreaking for relatives and neighbors to hear invalids’ desperate pleas to be put out of their misery.

While COVID-19 seemed to be spreading around the country so rapidly, the authorities failed to stockpile enough diagnostic kits. No wonder the North Korean authorities have referred to “people with fever,” rather than “confirmed cases.”

Naturally, distrust of the party and government officials has been spreading through the public. In short, doubts are forming about the North Korean leadership’s reliance on control as the solution for every problem.

Perhaps in awareness of that, the North Korean authorities have fired party bureaucrats and public servants in people’s committees for being remiss in their responsibilities in the battle against COVID-19.

Members of a meeting of the WPK Secretariat on Sunday called for an intense struggle against “unrevolutionary behavior” by cadres. That foretells a regime of rigorous oversight and harsh punishment under which cadres will be held to blame. Perhaps that can be regarded as a preemptive measure aimed at diverting public discontent away from Kim Jong Un and the WPK leadership.

North Korea’s leaders have spoken so often about “the happiness of the people” and building a “strong and prosperous nation” through self-sufficiency and collectivism. But the current crisis has made the North Korean dictatorship’s corruption and its antipathy for the people more glaring than ever before.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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