Chinese city bordering North Korea takes drastic steps to stop coronavirus spreading from neighbor

Daisuke Kawase / Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
North Korean soldiers are seen near a border fence in this photo taken from Dandong, China, in July 2021.

SHENYANG, China — Authorities in the northeastern Chinese city of Dandong, alarmed by an increase in novel coronavirus cases, are cracking down on cross-border activity involving neighboring North Korea.

The city in Liaoning Province is offering rewards for tips on smuggling activity through which residents of China and North Korea might come into contact, including smuggling by sea and exchanges of goods through the border fence.

The plan was announced June 1 and reportedly will continue through the end of the year.

The Dandong city government has called on residents to stay on China’s side of the Yalu River, which forms a border with North Korea, and avoid touching the water or anything that washes ashore. Residents living near the border have even been told to keep their windows closed “as much as possible” on days when the wind is blowing from North Korea. These and other drastic steps appear to paint North Korea as a potential source of coronavirus infections.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, citing multiple sources, reported May 19 that coronavirus cases were detected among several North Koreans detained in Dandong who had fled their home country.

The Dandong government denied having any information related to the Yonhap report.

A coronavirus infection case was confirmed in the city on May 24, however, and the total number of infections had climbed to about 180 as of Tuesday.

A diplomatic source indicated to The Yomiuri Shimbun that North Korea “was the source of the spread of infections.”

This represents a serious state of affairs for China, which has pursued a zero-COVID policy that refuses to tolerate even a minor outbreak of the virus.

Liaoning Province’s health authorities have stated that Dandong “faces a complex situation.” The city had just contained an outbreak that started in late April by enforcing a lockdown.

These latest developments likely will affect the restart of the suspended rail freight shipments between China and North Korea.