Authorities in North Korea have moved about 70 Chinese-citizen residents of the Rason Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to an isolated island as a measure intended to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) in the northeast Asian country.
By relocating the Chinese nationals to Pipa island, which lies between the SEZ’s cities of Rajin and Sonbong, North Korean authorities are effectively preventing them from leaving the country and making it easier to closely monitor their health.
Rason lies in North Korea’s northeast, where the borders of North Korea, China, and Russia converge. The SEZ was set up there in the early 1990s to test out market economics while attracting Chinese and Russian investment.
RFA’s Korean Service Monday learned of the relocation of Chinese from Rason to Pipa island via No Chain, a Seoul-based association working on behalf of North Korean political prisoners and their families.
“The number of people who are being kept in isolation appears to be around 70, and they are all Chinese,” said Jeong Kwang-il, the head of No Chain.
“[Pipa island] is a tourist destination with hotels built there, as far as I know, but they are all being held in isolation there,” said Jeong.
According to Jeong, the Chinese traders have been in isolation on Pipa island since late last month. He said they are able to contact people outside the country by phone, but they are being forced to pay for their housing.
“The North Korean authorities are demanding 1,000 yuan (U.S. $142) per day per person for food and a place to stay,” said Jeong.
It remains unclear whether any of the isolated people are even showing symptoms of coronavirus infection, or when exactly they entered North Korea.
But Jeong clarified that the isolated people are not typical Chinese visitors.
“They frequently travel between North Korea and China,” he said, adding, “But they reside in North Korea.”
The Russian Embassy in North Korea may be aware of the isolation. They announced Jan. 28 through that all foreigners who enter North Korea via China will be quarantined at a special designated facility and subject to medical observation.
The embassy also announced Saturday that staff of diplomatic facilities, international organizations, and foreign travelers who entered North Korea after Jan. 13 must undergo North Korean authority-mandated inspections.
North Korea, meanwhile, notified all foreign diplomatic offices in the country that any foreign person entering the country from China should be kept in isolation for 15 days.
North Korea’s Health Ministry says there are no confirmed cases in the country, but confirmed it is isolating and monitoring suspected cases.
Reported by Yong Jae Mok for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.