Over a dozen university students who took part in the military parade to mark the 73rd anniversary of the founding of North Korea on Sept. 9 were recently rushed into ambulances after coming down with symptoms of COVID-19.

According to a Daily NK source in Pyongyang on Sept. 17, 16 students from Pyongyang’s Civil Defense University were taken to the hospital on Sept. 12 after showing signs of COVID-19 such as high fever, nausea and respiratory difficulties.

The students were in their 30s and 40s, and included both men and women.

Located in Pyongyang’s Ryongsong District, Civil Defense University trains commanders for North Korea’s paramilitary student reserve and civil defense force. Unlike most universities, its students are largely in their 30s or older with families of their own. Graduates are usually deployed as commanders to the student reserve or as guidance officers to the party’s civil defense force.

The students who displayed symptoms reportedly showed slight fevers from early September, prior to taking part in the parade.

The university was apparently aware of this even as they were rehearsing for the parade, but decided against reporting it to the parade’s commanders, concluding that the students were suffering mere colds brought on by forced practices in the rain.

The source said the university provided the students with cold medicine and made them take part in the parade. When the students came down with high fevers, nausea and breathing difficulties after the parade, however, the school reported the matter to the Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Committee on Sept. 12.

Soldiers at an event in Pyongyang for Party Foundation Day in 2016. / Image: Daily NK

“The Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Headquarters immediately mobilized ambulances from Hospital No. 1 and No. 2,” he said. “They put the students suspected of having COVID in the ambulances after dressing them in anti-contamination suits and anti-contamination masks, and took them outside of Pyongyang.”

He added, “We don’t know exactly where they took them, but it seems they were taken to the quarantine facility in Anju, South Pyongan Province.”

Afterwards, the Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Committee put the entire Civil Defense University under lockdown. All students, including those who took no part in the military parade, were banned from leaving their dormitories for 15 days.

Through its subordinate local committee in Ryongsong District, the Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Committee also immediately sent quarantine officials to the university to carry out large-scale disinfections of the school’s facilities.

The source further said the Central Committee upbraided the military parade’s commanders over the incident. In fact, the Central Committee’s Organization and Guidance Department apparently called in the parade’s commanders for a special internal review.

The Organization and Guidance Department reportedly took those involved to the proverbial woodshed. If somebody had collapsed due to fever during a military parade attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un himself, they said, it would have left “a great stain on history.”

They pressed, “It’s lucky that the parade was recorded. What would you have done if there’d been an incident during a live performance?”

Ultimately, five quarantine advisers with the Central Emergency Anti-epidemic Committee sent to the parade headquarters as a quarantine team were dismissed for alleged irresponsibility and ordered to perform unpaid labor as punishment. 

Meanwhile, despite the enormity of suspected cases of COVID-19 emerging among the parade participants, the Central Committee has suspiciously kept rather silent about the “personal safety” of North Korea’s paramount leader.

“Usually, when something like this happens, they say an incident has taken place that could have brought serious harm to the personal safety or health of the Supreme Leader [Kim], but in this case, nothing of the sort has been said,” said the source. “So Pyongyang residents are saying this could be because the Supreme Leader and his cadres are all vaccinated.”

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

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.