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North Korea cuts off trade with China on fears of coronavirus

Chinese-North Korean Border (Laika ac/WikiCommons)
January 30, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Authorities in North Korea have suspended all trade with China in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus into the country, as several confirmed cases of infection have occurred in Chinese cities on the border with North Korea, RFA has learned.

Sources say that trade between North Korea and its northern neighbor came to a halt Friday, and the North Korean consulate in China has posted a notice saying that it is suspending the issuance of visas for travel to North Korea.

“From today, freight-car-traffic from Dandong, China through the Sinuiju customs office [in North Korea], has been completely stopped,” a source in North Pyongan province told RFA’s Korean Service Tuesday.

“Although the customs offices of both countries have not officially closed, North Korea has preemptively blocked trade with China,” the source said.

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“This morning, the Chinese trading partner of a North Korean trade worker tried to check in with its North Korean counterpart in Sinuiju but was denied entry because authorities today ordered the cessation of freight transport across the border in response to the horrible epidemic spreading in China,” the source said.

The source said that North Korean health officials are investigating a list of trade officials and people who have entered China for other reasons that have returned to North Korea through Sinuiju since mid-January.

“They want to see if they have been infected with the new coronavirus,” the source said.

“People are saying that only a limited number of people are allowed to enter North Korea from China and that the customs office is conducting strict health screening,” the source added.

The source said that trade workers in China are stranded and people within North Korea that have exit visas are only allowed to leave the country on a limited basis.

“In addition, the movement or residents of the border area to inland areas [of North Korea] is also being strictly controlled,” the source said.

Another source, a North Korean resident visiting Shenyang, China told RFA Tuesday, “An official notice was posted at the North Korean consulate in Shenyang yesterday, saying they will not issue visas to enter or leave North Korea because of the outbreak of the new virus.”

“The notice shows that North Korean authorities are doing what they can to prevent Wuhan pneumonia from entering North Korea,” the second source said.

The second source also said that staff at the consulate in Dandong had special orders.

“[They] were told to refrain from having contact with Chinese people, to take special measures to prevent the virus from infecting them, and to report to authorities immediately if they believe [one among them] is infected,” the second source said.

Virus spreads in Chinese border cities

Sources say North Korean and Chinese traders are currently on high alert because several cases of Wuhan pneumonia have been confirmed in Dandong.

“As of this morning, four confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported in Dandong,” a trade source in Dandong said Tuesday.

“The news of the confirmed patients is spreading rapidly through the online messaging platform WeChat,” the third source said.

“This morning news of those four [in Dandong] and six in nearby Dalian and Shenyang is spreading like wildfire,” the third source added.

“The actual number of confirmed cases may be higher, considering that intercity bus service as well as the express bus service to the Dandong outskirts have been suspended since the afternoon of the 25th,” the third source said.

Kaesong quarantine

Meanwhile in the southern region of North Korea, authorities are tightening quarantine inspections of South Korean personnel at the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong.

Seoul’s Ministry of Unification told reporters Tuesday that North Korean authorities have asked South Koreans in Kaesong to wear masks, and are being screened with a thermal imaging camera.

The ministry added that all visitors to the North are provided with hand sanitizer and masks by the South Korean government.