This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
North Korea has extended its COVID-19 national emergency to the end of the year in anticipation that the global pandemic will continue, raising concerns among residents that keeping the border with China closed will deal a serious blow to the economy.
“On the 23rd, the Central Party ordered the provincial quarantine command to extend the national emergency quarantine posture through the end of the year,” a senior official in North Pyongan province, who requested anonymity due to fear of reprisal, told RFA’s Korean Service on April 26.
“[They] ordered stronger quarantine measures in response to the prolonged outbreak,” the source said.
The source said that the order was part of follow-up measures after the Politburo of the party convened to discuss the global pandemic April 11.
“The national emergency quarantine posture for the coronavirus has been designated again as a matter of grave concern for the country,” the source said.
“As a result, the resumption of border trade and maritime trade, which has been blocked for months, has been postponed without any promise [of reopening],” the source said.
The decision will add to the hardships already being endured by North Koreans who make their living by trading with China.
Another source who requested anonymity to speak freely, from Ryongchon, North Pyongan, told RFA Monday that his manufacturing business would take a hit.
“My Chinese partner and I agreed to resume our clothing toll manufacturing business around June when the weather gets warmer and the coronavirus situation calms down,” the second source said. Toll manufacturing entails processing raw materials or unfinished goods, mostly for Chinese companies.
“But now with the extension of the national emergency, many foreign currency earning workers are quite disappointed because we don’t know when border trade will resume,” the source added.
The second source told RFA that all eyes are on the border, because so many depend on trade with China to make a living.
“We still need to wait and see about when the Dandong-Sinuiju border crossing will open up. The toll processing business, which brings in raw materials through Sinuiju customs, is likely to resume at the end of this year,” the second source said.
“This crisis has left the border closed for so long, shaking the economy of this country that relies so heavily on imports [from China],” the second source added.
The second source was critical of the party for discussing measures to extend the emergency to prevent the spread of the virus without addressing the economic situation.
“Without [solutions], it raises the question about whether they only think the only urgent matter is protecting themselves from the coronavirus,” said the second source.
“Emergency quarantine commanders in each region are preparing another propaganda campaign aimed at stopping the virus. They fear that the residents’ support of the quarantine project will wane as the project drags on,” the second source said.
“It is good that they are taking [extensive] measures to deal with the coronavirus, but no one knows what the starving people will do when their living difficulties reach their limit due to the long-term border closure.”
RFA asked World Health Organization (WHO) Monday about the status of North Korea regarding confirmed COVID-19 patients. The WHO referred to their official weekly report issued April 17, which states that there are no confirmed cases in North Korea.
North Korean state media maintains that North Korea is coronavirus free, but RFA reported April 17 that North Korean authorities told residents during community lectures that the virus was spreading in three areas of the country, including the capital Pyongyang.