North Korea, while it’s been denying for much of the last year that it has any coronavirus pandemic at all, has nevertheless strongly enforced its border with the country where the pandemic began, China. Back in January, North Korea reportedly shut the border with China for another 30 days, after two people were arrested for smuggling condiments, sugar, and soybean oil across the Chinese border.
At the start of February, North Korea reportedly closed the bridges to China in North Hamgyong Province, although it left one bridge, in Saebyul County, open for emergencies. Another such lockdown followed early in March.
Now, there’s a report that North Korea has clamped down even further on its border- and this time, it’s once again about smuggling.
According to Daily NK, which cited a source in Yanggang Province, North Korea has increased the number of Ministry of State Security (MSS) officials in the region, in order to cut down on smuggling and illegal border crossings. Those officials have reportedly ordered the neighborhood watch-like organizations known as the inminban to "provide them with information about recent trends regarding locals.”
The Kim Jong-un regime has stated repeatedly throughout the pandemic that North Korea does not have any cases of the pandemic. But that hasn’t stopped North Korea’s government from accepting vaccines, including from the COVAX Facility. The country has also closed schools and also imposed drastic social distancing measures.
UPI had reported in early March, citing South Korea’s Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, that North Korea had been preparing to resume low-level trade with China. That indicated that the regime might re-open borders for trade at some point between April and June.
"After North Korea's General Secretary Kim Jong Un put 'people first' during the Eighth Party Congress, it is expected imports of consumer goods including food, medicine and detergents could take place," KIEP said in its report.
In early March, PRI reported that North Korea would be reopening its borders in order to receive the COVAX Facility’s vaccines.
“AstraZeneca is probably the vaccine that they can handle most easily,” Jerome Kim of the International Vaccine Institute, told PRI in that report, in part because it only requires a single shot and does not need to be frozen before it’s administered. “It's a much more robust system from a public health perspective.”
Also in March, a U.N. expert stated that North Korea’s anti-coronavirus efforts have likely made matters worse for the population there.
“The further isolation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea with the outside world during the COVID-19 pandemic appears to exacerbate entrenched human rights violations,” Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the country, said, per Reuters.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.