Two soldiers from the Eighth Corps of the North Korean army who were quarantined together in a military medical ward with symptoms of COVID-19 have reportedly died. The two soldiers perished when they failed to receive treatment during a recently-held workshop (July 24-27) for military commanders and political cadres.

A military source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that the two soldiers died after they were confined to the medical ward during the period of the workshop, the first of its kind. “They were found dead in their room in the isolation ward after the lectures,” he said.

According to the source, the soldiers were quarantined in an Eighth Corps facility for suspected COVID-19 cases — as per orders from North Korea’s military medical authorities — before the start of the workshop, and after being classified as suspected cases. 

Rumor has it, however, that the two were essentially abandoned during the workshop, when major cadres left their posts to attend lectures and the entire military was put on special guard duty for a week.

Though the soldiers required medical and pathological treatment as they were suffering breathing problems and fevers, they received only temperature checks during the workshop period. Not even once did they receive medication.

“During the lecture period for the entire military, military doctors and nurses neglected even the most rudimentary treatments,” explained the source. “In fact, the soldiers were isolated out of fear they would spread the disease to the unit, but nobody gave a fig about them.”

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North Korean soldiers walking near Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

This is to say, the two young soldiers died even as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was lecturing military commanders on “the need to seriously consider and review military activities in their entirety.” From the position of the authorities, commanders and political cadres essentially shirked their duty to look after soldiers “as an elder brother would look after his younger brothers.”

Moreover, unit commanders discovered that a higher-ranking soldier quarantined in the same ward as the two was stealing their food, but apparently did nothing about it.

Ultimately, the two soldiers in the isolation ward died from fever and hunger after they not only failed to receive treatment during the workshop, but even had their meals stolen, according to the source. 

Following the discovery of the death of the two men during room-to-room doctor visits after the workshop, the Eighth Corps moved quickly to manage the situation. However, the unit’s commanders have focused only on cremating the two bodies and silencing rumors. They have not even properly informed the parents of the two soldiers about what happened, according to the source. 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense has responded to the Eighth Corps’ report on the incident by ordering the entire military to carry out sweeping examinations of soldiers in isolation wards as an “urgent matter.” It also ordered unit commanders and political cadres to “put their heads together and formulate responses” to improve the health and diet of soldiers. As in the past, the authorities have responded to the incident by telling lower-level units “to take responsibility” rather than resolving issues with management at the top echelons of the military.

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