North Korea imposes ‘unprecedented’ coronavirus measures
State media is demanding ‘absolute obedience’ to health authorities as the secretive nation tries to shield itself from the virus that emerged in neighbouring China.
New arrivals are subject to 30 days’ isolation and authorities are conducting door-to-door health check-ups in an intensifying ‘anti-virus campaign’.
North Korea claims it is the only neighbour of China not to have had a single case.
North Korea claims it is the only neighbour of China not to have had a single case of coronavirus (pictured, North Koreans wearing masks last week)
Foreigners are facing tough restrictions: all of those resident in the country have been subjected to quarantine at their premises since the beginning of February.
Diplomats in Pyongyang have unable even to walk around the city in what the Russian ambassador described as a ‘morally crushing’ situation.
The embassy had been ‘left without diplomatic mail… we did not manage to get medicines and supplies for our first-aid post’, Alexander Matsegora told Russia’s TASS news agency.
Staff could only leave the premises – which have a prime location in Pyongyang close to the Workers’ Party leadership compound – to take rubbish to a landfill, when ‘Korean specialists immediately disinfect our truck at the gates of the embassy’.
The city’s Orthodox church, taekwondo gym, skating rink and swimming pool were all off-limits, as were Korean and painting classes. ‘They may seem trifles, but everyday life is made of them.’
Diplomatic work had been virtually suspended, he added, with no meetings, conversations or negotiations with North Korean officials or other embassies, while contact with the authorities was limited to phone calls or official notes dropped into a special mailbox.
Only a country as ‘unique’ as the North could take such a decision to address ‘a problem of national importance’ and implement it, he said, describing the situation as ‘extraordinary’.
‘In material terms, self-isolation is of course very expensive for the Korean state,’ he added.
But it would always be willing to pay that price, he went on: ‘It is very important to understand that the issues of state security, the ideology and dignity of the country – in its North Korean understanding, of course – always and definitely prevail over economic considerations.’
Those who expect sanctions to force the North to make concessions over its nuclear arsenal – negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington are currently deadlocked – should recognise that reality, he added.
Workers in protective suits spray disinfectant in North Korea where authorities have taken ‘unprecedented’ measures to shield the country from coronavirus
The novel coronavirus now known as COVID-19 originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and has since spread around the world, killing more than 2,700 people.
South Korea has seen a rapid surge of cases in recent days, to well over 1,100, giving it the largest national tally outside China.
But Pyongyang insists that it remains the only one of China’s neighbours not to have had a single case.
Observers doubt that, but the official mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party urged citizens to show ‘absolute obedience’ to instructions from health authorities and the state.
‘We should bear in mind that any moment of complacency could result in irreversible catastrophic consequences and should maintain a high state of alert,’ it said.
Loudspeaker vans have also been driving around the country instructing North Korean citizens on hygiene practices.
Diplomats say North Korea’s quarantine measures are ‘unprecedented’.
Earlier this week North Koreans were warned of ‘devastating consequences’ if the country suffers even one case of coronavirus, recommending people avoid gathering in public places – even restaurants.
‘Sitting down and dining together and talking with each other can itself become the main spreading ground of the infectious disease,’ the party mouthpiece said.
But state duties do not appear to be subject to such restrictions: on Wednesday it carried pictures of scores of Supreme People’s Assembly officials lining up to visit the supposed birthplace of Kim Jong Il, the father and predecessor of the current leader Kim Jong Un, at Mount Paektu. All of them wore masks.