The deaths continue a month after North Korea declared “victory” over COVID – Radio Free Asia

North Koreans continue to test positive for COVID-19, and several have died of starvation during long quarantines more than a month after Pyongyang declared “victory” over the virus, sources in the country told RFA.

On Aug. 10, the country’s leader Kim Jong Un ended “maximum emergency restrictions” in place since May, saying the country had won its battle against COVID.

But the disease is spreading and North Koreans are still dying from it, a resident of northern Ryanggang province told RFA’s Korean service on Monday on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“As the weather gets cooler in autumn, the number of farmers confirmed with COVID-19 is increasing in Kimhyongjik County, which borders China,” the source said.

“Last week, a couple in their 60s living in Muchang village died while quarantining at home, just 10 days after they were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19,” he said.

During the emergency, North Korea had kept a balance sheet “fever cases”. The total reached around 4.8 million people, and state media reported 75 related deaths. These numbers have never been confirmed to be related to COVID-19, likely due to a lack of testing capabilities.

However, the source said health authorities are now using Chinese self-test kits to unofficially confirm the infection.

Doctors visit sick people’s homes once a day to take their temperature. After three days with a fever, they report it to the county quarantine commander, who will come to do a test.

If the test is positive, they must go into quarantine at home for 20 days.

But although authorities are now testing for the disease, they are still trying to cover up deaths, according to the source.

“The quarantine authorities took the bodies away in ambulances without informing their son, who lives in the same neighborhood,” he said. “They buried the bodies in a mountain away from the neighborhood. Her son is angry because he can’t even hold a funeral for his parents.”

During the emergency, suspected COVID-19 patients were taken to a group quarantine facility where they were monitored. After the official end of the emergency, the patients had to be quarantined at home.

“COVID-19 patients and their families who are quarantined at home will only be given two antipyretic pills each day and no food will be provided,” the source said. “Residents accuse the authorities of not looking after the patients by blindly isolating them. They argue that COVID-19 patients are dying because they don’t eat properly.”

A 72-year-old woman in nearby Songjon village in Kimjongsuk county died during quarantine at her home a week after testing positive for COVID-19, a resident there told RFA.

“The quarantine authorities only gave the patient two antipyretic tablets a day during the quarantine period. They also gave two pills to her daughter in her 40s, her son-in-law, her grandson and her granddaughter, who all lived with her,” the second source said.

“They were all quarantined at home as suspected cases and received no food at all,” she said. “Families quarantined at home cannot work or buy food in the marketplace. Not only did this family have to worry about dying from COVID-19, they also had to try not to starve by eating corn and potatoes from their garden.”

Although the family tried to hold a funeral for her, authorities quickly confiscated the body, put it in an ambulance and sped away, according to the second source. They buried the body in the mountains, far from places of residence, and told the family only the place of the burial place.

“They said they couldn’t hold a funeral for COVID-19 dead,” she said. “Residents are dying from the symptoms of COVID-19 because there are no measures in place to provide food and medicines to COVID-19 patients. Residents are upset that authorities are falsely advertising that we are a COVID-free country.”

Translated by Claire Shinyoung Oh Lee and Leejin J. Chung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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