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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Staff of foreign embassies and international organizations in Pyongyang are being increasingly isolated from contact with North Koreans over fears of spreading the novel coronavirus as the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) released another set of new restrictions on Tuesday.
In a document seen by NK News addressed to “all diplomatic missions and international organizations,” the MFA set out new rules further restricting individual movement in Pyongyang and providing new details on quarantine measures.
The new “medical observation period of diplomatic staff” was said to last until February 15, resulting from “violations of restrictions on activities by some diplomatic mission workers and contact with others within the diplomatic missions” during the previous quarantine period.
An extension may also be possible as final decisions on related measures were said in Tuesday’s letter to rest with government health organs.
The first point of the letter advised foreign staff to “make all possible efforts to avoid contact with those workers of diplomatic missions and international organizations who are under quarantine and to only move within the area of” their buildings.
It said that any violation of previous quarantine rules, however — such as “quarantine subjects leaving quarantine locations and going downtown or going out” — will result in an automatic extension of 15 days beyond the date of violation.
Any new staff scheduled to enter the country will not be allowed, according to the letter, though under “unavoidable” circumstances new arrivals would be subject to the same 15-day quarantine.
In order to monitor the movements and health status of all foreign staff, the letter said they should expect to “receive medical observation from health checkpoints installed at the standard entry points for the Russian and Chinese embassies and the Munsu and Munhung area diplomatic districts.”
Expanding on the specifics of the new restrictions on movement of all staff — not just those under quarantine — the letter said foreign staff would no longer be able to use the popular Taedonggang Diplomatic Club or visit hotels, shops, restaurants, the Thongil Market, and other such facilities in Pyongyang.
Travel abroad for the purpose of purchasing supplies is also prohibited through the middle of the month, it said, while encouraging foreign staff to instead utilize shops in the Munsu Foreigner Apartments and other services within the diplomatic compound.
“For issues with daily life necessities such as fuel supplies for equipment and heating of buildings, and supplies of automobile parts, etc.,” it said foreign staff can receive supplies from the diplomatic service office.
Another measure meant to block all contact between foreign residents and North Koreans stated that a “separate mailbox installed in front of the MFA meeting room entrance” will receive all diplomatic documents.
This appeared to expand upon a rule announced over the weekend advising foreign staff that “essential meetings shall be conducted via telephone.”
That previous set of rules also sought to restrict the movement and activities of foreign residents by prohibiting “ceremonial visits and meetings.”
Additionally, Tuesday’s letter confirmed Monday’s report on the ceasing of operations of train services from Pyongyang across the Russian border to Khabarovsk and Moscow.
Meanwhile, North Korean state media on Tuesday continued heavy coverage of the novel coronavirus’s spread in China and internationally, as well as domestic prevention efforts.
An article in this morning’s Rodong Sinmun stated that 30,000 health workers are being mobilized nationwide every day to carry out education work and health screenings.
Korean Central Television (KCTV) on Tuesday also continued to air throughout the day a special program titled “Let us completely block the novel coronavirus,” which shows the activities of domestic health workers as well as those in other countries.
Scenes in the segment in recent days have depicted North Korean health workers at the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport — now believed to be seeing little to no traffic at all — using thermal cameras and modern thermometer guns similar to those being used across China and other countries amid the virus outbreak.
As of late Tuesday, North Korea had yet to announce any confirmed cases of the new coronavirus inside the country.
Edited by James Fretwell