Only the capital Pyongyang has been exempted from the strict lockdown – formally known as the “Suspension of Public Transportation in Order to Fundamentally Prevent the Movement of Residents” – which has seen trains and buses taken out of service across the rest of the country. The draconian travel ban suggests North Korea has a coronavirus problem but the country’s health officials have not confirmed a single case of COVID-19 since the pandemic started to spread from neighbouring China 12 months ago.
Pyongyang has imposed a series of measures to prevent public transmission of coronavirus including cancelling major cultural events, temporarily locking down entire cities and counties and delaying and then cancelling planned school openings.
A resident from North Hamgyong province in the country’s northeast confirmed the new public transport restrictions.
He told Radio Free Asia: “From the beginning of this month, all public transport networks linking the whole country were stopped under the direction of the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party.
“Trains, buses, and private couriers were banned as part of measures to stop the coronavirus.
“Earlier this month, the Central Committee ordered residents of the city of Chongjin to stop using the roads.
“The authorities, which had been limiting the movement of residents to other areas of the country, are now blocking public transportation because of the virus.”
The World Health Organisation has reported several thousand “suspected cases” in North Korea but none has been confirmed despite the latest crackdown.
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The North Hamgyong resident told RFA: “People were still using trains at Chongnyon station in Chongjin until earlier this month.
“Now that the order to suspend public transit, travellers and merchants have all but disappeared from the station square.
“In addition to the trains, the intercity buses and private couriers from Chongjin to other provincial areas are also suspended, so there’s no way to get out of Chongjin to anywhere else.”
“Yesterday afternoon, I went to the intercity bus station in the Sunam district of Chongjin and all bus routes to the whole country stopped running, so there were no people, and the buses were just packed in the parking lot.”
“Since the beginning of this month, the Sinuiju Automobile Transport Centre, the Provincial Long-Distance Transportation Unit, and the Sinuiju Passenger Transportation Centre have all been shut down.
“The bus stop in the station square, which was always crowded with people, is now completely empty.
“The virus has started spreading again since November. The Central Committee saw that people were still using public transit, and so proposed this special measure.”