North Korea lifted its mask mandate and social distancing measures on Aug. 10. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended the emergency order, saying that the public health crisis was over.
However, some residents alleged that authorities have issued an order requiring residents to wear masks in public again, and those who do not comply face fines of up to 3,000 won ($0.33) and 1,000 won ($0.12) for improper mask use.
A resident of the eastern province of South Hamgyong, who requested anonymity, said that authorities dispatched a mask inspection team to arrest anyone who failed to comply with the order, RFA reported.
“They said that the coronavirus crisis was over, but in less than one month they are telling us to wear masks again and they are cracking down more harshly,” the source said, adding that people are upset over the “excessive fines” imposed by authorities.
Another resident said the authorities reinforced the prevention measures system and deployed mask inspection teams to public places as there were still individuals with suspected COVID-19 symptoms.
“They say South Korea continues to transmit the virus into our territory by applying the malignant virus on their goods, so we have no choice but to adhere to strict quarantine regulations again,” the resident told RFA.
State-run media Korea Central News Agency claimed there were four new fever cases in Ryanggang province on Aug. 23 caused by the coronavirus.
The hermit nation imported 1.23 million face masks and 15,000 pairs of rubber gloves from China in July, according to data released by Chinese customs.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recommended the country begin COVID-19 vaccinations in November, citing World Health Organization warnings that the outbreak could re-emerge during the winter.
“Therefore, along with responsible vaccination, we should recommend that all residents wear masks to protect their health from November,” Kim was quoted as saying by KCNA.
It remains unclear how many of North Korea’s 26 million people have been immunized for COVID-19, given that the nation has repeatedly rejected offers of vaccine supplies from the United Nations’ COVAX initiative.
In 2021, North Korea turned down a COVAX offer of 3 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine and rejected planned shipments of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. In February, COVAX reduced its initial allocation of 8.11 million doses of vaccines to North Korea to 1.54 million doses.
The Kim regime has not disclosed the actual number of COVID-19 cases detected in North Korea.
Reuters contributed to this report.