Restrictions on movement between regions, which North Korea is enforcing in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19, are causing severe side effects, Daily NK has learned. 

Food shortages have become a widespread phenomenon, and there was even an incident near the China-North Korea border where a villager was reportedly shot dead while searching for food. 

A source in North Pyongan Province informed Daily NK on Jan. 13 that, “Currently, people who need to travel to do business or to obtain food are absolutely incapable of traveling,” and that “the number of households suffering chronic food shortage has spiked for this reason.”

North Korea implemented “super-class” quarantine measures last month, and banned most movement of people and goods. 

“While [residents in Sinuiju and other places] can find food despite difficulties, the same is not true [for those] in rural areas,” the source said, adding, “People are starving because [the authorities are] imposing movement restrictions without suggesting alternative means for them to survive.” 

That is, unlike Sinuiju and other sizable cities, where shops and infrastructure for distribution are available to alleviate inconveniences in acquiring food, rural areas are not equipped with equivalent means for survival.

Areas without adequate infrastructure are increasingly seeing signs of acute food shortages due to both restrictions on movement and crop damages caused by typhoons, floods, and other natural disasters last year.

Daily NK previously reported that the North Korean government had endorsed intensified movement restrictions in response to people in some communities who visited nearby rural areas at night to obtain rice. 

“Though rumors of people dying of hunger have circulated every year, people are actually starving to death now,” the source said, adding that “Those who have dollars could sell [dollars] – even if they lose [some money] – to purchase food, but households with dire financial needs [are left to face] pressing challenges.”

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

What is particularly disturbing is the shooting incident that resulted in the death of a person who was foraging for food near the Sino-North Korean border. 

“He was shot dead [only because] he went to the river, hoping to find something to eat” and that “there are many people who believe his death was unjust,” the source said. 

In late August last year, North Korea announced that anyone approaching a one to two kilometer zone along the border would be “unconditionally” fired upon. Since then, there have been reports of shooting incidents of people and animals on the border. 

Meanwhile, North Koreans are questioning the validity of official claims that North Korea is COVID-19 free. 

“There are now people in front of stores, checking if [customers are] wearing masks. [The government] has asserted that there is no virus, yet the mask policy is extending even to [people going to] restrooms,” the source said. 

“That is why people think that the authorities are concealing the truth,” he added. 

A World Health Organization report published on Jan. 1 stated that North Korea had performed 23,140 tests on a total of 11,707 people in the country, but that no COVID-19 cases have been found. 

North Korean authorities still claim that the country has no confirmed COVID-19 cases. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to
Read in Korean
Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to