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North Korea orders five-day lockdown in capital over 'respiratory illness'

The lockdown began on Wednesday and is due to end on Sunday - AFP
The lockdown began on Wednesday and is due to end on Sunday - AFP

The North Korean capital of Pyongyang was placed under a five-day lockdown on Wednesday due to a “rising number” of respiratory illness cases, according to a government notice seen by the news outlet NK News.

During the lockdown residents will be required to check their temperature daily, the news outlet said. The notice did not mention Covid-19 by name but did list other similar ailments like the common cold.

Also reportedly included in the notice was a warning of capital punishment or banishment for family members of anyone caught spreading "rumours" or selling medicine on the black market.

The notice follows reports on Tuesday published by NK News of Pyongyang residents stocking up on food and other goods amid rumours of the possible lockdown as temperatures in the capital drop to a bitter -19C amid a major cold front.

The Korean peninsula is currently in the grip of what weather forecasters have described as a Siberian cold snap - AFP
The Korean peninsula is currently in the grip of what weather forecasters have described as a Siberian cold snap - AFP

For now only Pyongyang appears to be under lockdown, but North Korea’s state news outlet published a separate story on Tuesday about “anti-epidemic work” underway in the country’s southern city of Kaesong.

The lockdown is a major reversal for the isolated nation, whose leader Kim Jong Un declared victory over Covid-19 in August and a full eradication of the virus – claims which have been doubted by international health authorities.

North Korea’s government denied any outbreak of Covid-19 throughout much of the pandemic — despite sharing a border with China — until a major outbreak in May, when Pyongyang was also placed under lockdown.

Human Rights Watch said earlier this month that the North Korean government has used the pandemic as a pretext to increase repressive measures including upgrading fences, infrastructure, and border controls, which include an unconditional “shoot to kill” order since 2020 for anyone entering or leaving buffer zones with China without authorisation.