A Daily NK source inside North Korea’s military reported on Mar. 6 that the military’s medical corps had sent a report detailing the impact of COVID-19 on the country’s soldiers to military leaders.
The report stated that 180 soldiers had died in January and February and that approximately 3,700 soldiers are currently under quarantine. According to the report, the soldiers who had died were predominantly stationed on or around the Sino-North Korean border in North Pyongan, Chagang, Ryanggang, and North Hamgyong provinces.
The report came after the military’s leadership had ordered hospitals serving each branch of the military to collect data on the number of soldiers who had died after suffering from high fevers stemming from pneumonia, tuberculosis, asthma or colds. Military leaders also asked the hospitals to report on the numbers of those currently in quarantine.
The report has reportedly caused an uproar in North Korea’s military establishment and has led military leaders to take several measures to prevent the spread of what appears to be COVID-19 infections.
TOO MANY CORPSES TO CREMATE
One key measure the military has implemented is for corpses to be “thoroughly disinfected.” This contrasts with the North Korean government’s order that all hospitals cremate all corpses.
“There’s just too many bodies [to be cremated in the military] and they didn’t want news [of the cremations] to leak outside the military,” Daily NK’s military source explained.
“I haven’t heard of corpses being cremated in military hospitals,” he continued, adding, “The military leadership likely believes that suddenly asking the hospitals to cremate all the bodies would create a big headache for medical staff.”
The authorities have also ordered military hospitals to disinfect the quarantined areas where sick soldiers are being hospitalized on a daily basis. The military hospitals are reportedly spraying “methyl alcohol” (methanol) to disinfect the facilities.
Military leaders have also ordered that soldiers with weak immune systems or who suffered from health issues in the past be “observed closely,” Daily NK’s military source said.
PUNISHING LAX RESPONSES
Military authorities have also threatened to punish the leaders of military units who fail to follow proper disease control procedures aimed at preventing COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Future evaluations on battle readiness will include a review of how many soldiers have died,” the military source said, paraphrasing the orders handed down by the military leadership.
Officers will also “be held responsible for the deaths that have occurred in their units,” he added.
Military leaders have also moved to improve the military’s logistical operations, including the supply of food to military units. These efforts are aimed at ensuring soldiers are getting enough to eat so they can better fight off disease.
“Officials in charge of the military’s logistics operations are stressing that soldiers are supplied at least 800 grams worth of food per day. They also are emphasizing that soldiers eat three meals of pureed soybean soup per day, instead of the usual one per day,” Daily NK’s military source said.
Daily NK has long reported on malnutrition in North Korea’s military and efforts by military bases to increase food production through tilling of their own fields.
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