As part of ongoing efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), officials in North Korea continue to enforce domestic restrictions nationwide. A state of emergency remains in effect. Protective face coverings are mandatory in public spaces nationwide, and restrictions on nonessential public gatherings continue. Authorities are limiting nonessential inter-regional and interdistrict travel and require temperature checks before trips. Temperature checks are also occurring at malls and other public assembly locations; state media indicates that officials have encouraged businesses to improve staff hygiene practices. Residents exhibiting temperatures for more than three days must self-isolate.
Stricter measures continue in the capital, Pyongyang, where reports indicate that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has restricted foreign nationals from traveling outside the city. Authorities have also increased security in the capital, with new guard posts set up at subway stations, long-distance bus terminals, and main roads into the capital. Officials are screening travelers on public transport in the capital and travelers into the city and can impose quarantine on people with COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever. Business restrictions are also likely in the city.
Authorities have increased security along the border with China to prevent the unauthorized movement of goods and people. Reports indicate that officials have issued shoot-on-sight measures for people attempting to enter the country. Chinese authorities previously warned of potential shoot-on-sight measures near the North Korean frontier, and North Korean soldiers shot and killed a South Korean official who crossed the maritime border in the Yellow Sea in September. The government is reportedly allowing some shipments via the Sinuiju-Dandong border crossing with China. Some maritime shipments from China are also occurring, though the frequency of shipments remains unclear. Authorities are quarantining imports for 10 days after arrival.
Several foreign embassies remain closed after North Korean officials allowed diplomats to leave the country following mandatory quarantines.
A ban on most foreign nationals remains in place, though diplomatic travel is allowed. Officials are conducting increased health screenings and have imposed quarantine periods on permitted foreign nationals of up to 30 days.
Authorities could reimpose, extend, further ease, or otherwise amend any restrictions with little-to-no notice depending on disease activity over the coming weeks.
Background and Analysis
North Korean state media has yet to confirm any COVID-19 activity in the country, and WHO representatives in the country continue to verify that there have been no positive test results. Some experts have questioned North Korea's claims due to China's initial delay in reporting COVID-19 activity, the frequency of cross-border travel, and the government's limited ability to test for COVID-19 outside Pyongyang. Nevertheless, claims from dissident exile organizations of numerous COVID-19 cases in North Korea may be least partially politically motivated and inaccurate. North Korean authorities imposed strict inbound travel restrictions and quarantine measures during an Ebola outbreak in parts of West Africa in 2014 and during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in East Asia.
Follow all official instructions. Defer nonessential travel to North Korea due to quarantine measures; delay travel if experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19. Make allowances for likely shipping delays and supply chain disruptions. Contact travel providers for reservation status if scheduled to visit North Korea in the coming months.
Exercise basic health precautions, especially frequent handwashing with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable. Practice good coughing/sneezing etiquette (i.e., covering coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue, maintaining distance from others, and washing hands). There is no evidence that the influenza vaccine, antibiotics, or antiviral medications will prevent this disease, highlighting the importance of diligent basic health precautions.