North Koreans ‘still not awake’ to the dangers of COVID-19, state media says Steep uptick in coverage of domestic coronavirus measures follows complete lockdown of Kaesong City

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North Korean state media called out officials and citizens who are “still not awake” to the threat of COVID-19 in a series of articles in the Rodong Sinmun on Friday, with authorities demanding vigilance in the “life or death” fight against the virus.

The Rodong Sinmun articles come alongside a steep rise in coverage of domestic measures against the novel coronavirus, following the lockdown of a major city and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s warnings in a meeting late last week.

On Thursday, state media once again reiterated its claim that the virus still has not infected a single person in the country, despite the lockdown of Kaesong City and a previous official report alleging that a defector “suspected” of carrying the virus reentered the country. However, no similar claims of being virus-free were explicitly made by state media on Friday.

But North Korean officials, workers and citizens were nevertheless scolded for failing to follow strict anti-epidemic measures in seven different articles on the first and third pages of the Rodong Sinmun on Friday.

One message was repeated throughout the articles: Leader Kim Jong Un and the ruling party did their part in establishing rules and sounding the alarm over COVID-19 concerns, but some in charge of carrying out those plans are threatening the fate of the country with “lax attitudes.”

In one article titled, “Are [you] still not awake?” some workers were said to have failed to properly wash their hands or sanitize spaces, while medical workers were criticized for not accurately taking temperatures and performing volunteer work without proper equipment.

“It is a problem that the phenomenon persists of some workers and citizens going against the rules by not wearing masks,” the article reads. The author added that he or she “would like to ask” these people “for whom, then, do you think such anti-epidemic mask-wearing policies were made?”

The Friday edition of the Cabinet newspaper, the Minju Choson, reminded readers in a caption that “mask-wearing is mandatory” (top), while the Rodong Sinmun showed off scenes from Pyongyang (bottom left) and Nampho (middle and right)

For months now, state media stressed to North Koreans that mask-wearing in public is mandatory, though there have been numerous apparent exceptions.

For instance, Kim Jong Un and his top officials often do not wear masks both indoors and outdoors. Thousands of people, including elderly war veterans and young people alike, also reportedly packed an auditorium this week for a large conference without wearing masks or observing social distancing.

“Some cadres, workers, and citizens still haven’t rid themselves of stubborn attitudes,” the Friday article stated. “Cadres who still cannot get their act together should seriously reevaluate their work.”

The same line about how “some” people “still haven’t gotten their act together” or “still are not awake” to the government’s demands was repeated across other articles Friday, as well.

For example, one article singled out a provincial-level epidemic response unit for improperly diverting medical workers to a hospital modernization construction site, resulting in examinations of local households being done merely “in a perfunctory manner.”

A unit at the county level also did not carry out instructions from above properly, the article relayed, while workers at “a certain factory” violated procedures by avoiding a virus checkpoint at the front gate.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that these phenomena come down to certain cadres of anti-epidemic units failing to stamp out extremely lax attitudes, thus opening the door to the virus,” the article reads.

North Korean state media has also long demanded improved border security and better inspections of imported items. “Some” inspection and quarantine workers of an unspecified location were criticized in an article on Friday for “deviating” from policies and failing to “carefully check every last item entering the country.” They were also said to have violated rules in “making contact” with people outside the country.

A worker sanitizing buses in a new propaganda slogan segment aired on KCTV on July 30

Letting up for even a moment could lead to “unimaginable and unrecoverable” consequences, the article added, referring to a line said by Kim Jong Un at a Politburo meeting on COVID-19 in early July.

A variation of this warning also appeared in a new five-minute segment of propaganda slogans and instructions for citizens aired on state television on Thursday. The anchor said the country “would not be able to recover from the consequences of even a single person becoming infected” with COVID-19.

The segment featured slogans urging North Koreans to “overcome deviations of the previous period of prevention efforts” and fight harder to carry out official policies, and ended with an appeal to follow Kim Jong Un’s instructions made at another Politburo meeting on the virus last weekend.

Friday also saw the return of a special news program dedicated to COVID-19 to state TV’s early afternoon schedule. The COVID-19 program ran regularly starting in February, but ultimately disappeared from daily broadcasts in March. Such domestic policy coverage already started to return earlier this month, but has seen a new increase since the most recent Politburo meeting.

Meanwhile in the locked-down city of Kaesong, the Rodong Sinmun reported on Friday that various government ministries continue to send in “large amounts” of food and other supplies. However, there was no mention of COVID-19 “testing kits” that were reportedly on their way to the city as of Tuesday.

State media has yet to release images of Kaesong under lockdown.