North Korean soldiers in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province covid-19 facilities
In this file photo, North Korean soldiers are seen in Sakju County, North Pyongan Province. (Daily NK)

North Korean authorities are supplying COVID-19 medications to Pyongyang and other areas of the country with support of the military, but ordinary soldiers are suffering deplorable conditions due to a medicine shortage. 

According to a Daily NK military source based in North Hwanghae Province yesterday, the headquarters of the Second Corps has been isolating soldiers with symptoms of COVID-19, designating one room in the barracks per unit at the battalion level and below as a quarantine facility. 

Not only has the distribution system collapsed for frontline units, but ever since North Korea declared the “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system” following the first official outbreak of COVID-19, soldiers have been strictly banned from making contact with people outside their bases. This has made it challenging for them to obtain even basic medicines. 

Meanwhile, the country’s Ministry of Defense is focused on supplying Pyongyang with medicines based on a special order prioritizing medicine distribution in the capital city. In short, even though the military suffers from a lack of medicine, the authorities are mobilizing troops anyway to ensure that drugs are properly distributed in Pyongyang. 

Ultimately, with the priority on distributing medicine to Pyongyang, soldiers suffering from fevers and others placed in isolation are not receiving proper prescriptions or treatments. 

The source said fever cases in units under the direct command of corps headquarters are isolated for 10 days in a barracks room in accordance with diagnoses handed down by infirmaries.

“But they get no medicine [in isolation] at all,” he said, adding, “After they get out of isolation, soldiers are given just six domestically made aspirins — two days’ worth — and two pills of Cheongsimhwan [a traditional Korean medicine].”

Another Daily NK source in the military said military doctors go around the quarantine rooms every day to check the condition of the patients. 

“But to soldiers who complain of fever or throat pain, they simply spout ideological remarks like, ‘Endure with the soldier’s spirit’ or ‘Your revolutionary conviction must be weak that you can’t endure even this amount of pain,’” he said. 

Some North Koreans say that soldiers face an even more critical situation than Pyongyang residents given that they are at serious risk of group infections due to their communal lifestyles, which involves eating and sleeping in the same barracks.

Daily NK understands some soldiers have even deserted their posts, tired of the lockdowns and isolation. 

A military source in Pyongyang said military police with the “emergency anti-epidemic mobile teams” are frequently catching and returning AWOL soldiers, who are strongly punished “for disgracing the Korean People’s Army.” Rules regarding lockdowns and isolation for soldiers are being strengthened to prevent these incidents from reoccurring, he added. 

“Military police were entirely withdrawn from downtown Pyongyang in accordance with the transition to the maximum emergency epidemic prevention system, but with the number of AWOL soldiers continuously increasing, the authorities decided from May 19 to redeploy military police in downtown Pyongyang,” he reported. 

The source further said that the General Staff Department has ordered unit staff departments and operational departments to classify AWOL soldiers as wartime deserters and punish them under wartime law.

“Everyone caught is being punished, ending the previous practice of forgiving new soldiers who enlisted in April or May,” he added. 

At the Second Corps, around 10 soldiers who had joined the military just one or two months previously deserted about a week apart from each other after complaining of hunger and fevers. 

In response, the Ministry of Defense’s manpower bureau ordered soldiers in training camps to carry out normal duties in the morning and take naps after lunch. The order was issued to corps headquarters, and new recruits have been sleeping in the afternoon starting on May 20, the Pyongyang-based source said.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

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