North Korea will impose forced labor sentences on citizens who meet and dine in groups of more than three people in violation of coronavirus quarantine rules, sources in the country have told RFA.
The measure is the latest aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in North Korea, which claims to be virus-free but has steadily stepped up preventive measures since the pandemic began 18 months ago.
Pyongyang has closed entire cities and counties, closed its economically vital border with China, and hastily cremated the bodies of people who have died from symptoms of the coronavirus. In 2020, authorities told the public at educational conferences that the virus was spreading in geographically remote areas of the country.
The government is now telling citizens that they will be punished for gatherings of more than three people, unless they live in the same household.
“If four or more people except immediate family get together to eat or drink these days, even if they are relatives, disease control authorities will send them to a labor center. disciplinary officer for violating the coronavirus quarantine, âa resident of South Pyongan province, near the capital Pyongyang, told RFA’s Korean service on August 7.
“There was an order from the central disease control authorities to take preventive action against the variants of the coronavirus,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
The measure put a stop to marriages, 60e birthday parties and other key family events, so it’s especially tough, according to the source.
“If guests sit down to eat or drink together, even at a small gathering for an event like a parent’s 60th birthdaye birthday or first birthday of a baby, not only the guests, but the owner of the house who serves the meal will be sent to the labor disciplinary center or will be given a heavy fine, âsaid the source.
“When a resident of Songchon County celebrated his son’s wedding at home in mid-July, he served guests meals and alcohol … He was sentenced to a large sum of money. instead of going to the disciplinary work center, âthe source said.
The moratorium on gatherings has pushed people to forgo marriage during the pandemic, according to the source.
âThere is no wedding these days, and children who are preparing for their parents’ 60th birthday, even modestly, cannot invite parents or colleagues to celebrate, even if they wish. So instead they spend the 60e birthday quietly with their immediate family, âthe source said.
âEven though the people we met are parents, they cannot eat or drink with four or more people unless they live in the same house,â the source said.
Another source, a resident of northwestern province of North Pyongan, told RFA that weddings, funerals and other major events have been suspended there since the start of the pandemic early last year.
“Resident opposition to the ban on events is growing, so authorities have relaxed quarantine rules, including exempting weddings from the ban,” the second source said.
“But as the number of ‘suspected coronavirus patients’ with high fever continues to rise here since June, disease control authorities have started cracking down on gatherings of more than three guests as a quarantine violation.” , the second source said.
RFA previously reported that North Korea was isolating sick people with symptoms of coronavirus, calling them “suspected” coronavirus patients, but the government maintains it has not confirmed any cases.
Even if they previously exempted marriages, the authorities justify the resumption of the crackdown by saying that marriages are still allowed, if people follow the quarantine rules, according to the second source.
âResidents say the measures authorities have put in place to stop the coronavirus are nothing more than anchoring and controlling us, without even providing a single mask,â the second source said.
âIf we follow the authorities’ disease control rules, not only will we miss the celebrationsâ¦ we will have an even harder time making a living. “
South Korea has also banned large gatherings as a pandemic prevention measure.
Reuters news agency reported on August 6 that South Korea had extended recently adopted rules that limit gatherings in and around Seoul to two people after 6 p.m. and four people elsewhere in the country.
But unlike North Korea, South Korean offenders pay fines instead of serving time in a labor camp.
According to Herald of Korea newspaper, the fine for violating similar rules that limited gatherings to five people at the end of 2020 was three million won (US $ 2,600) for restaurants and 100,000 won for customers.
Reported by Hyemin Son for the RFA Korean service. Translated by Jinha Shin. Published by Joongsok Oh.