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Authorities in North Korea are carrying out checks on factories making masks and anyone without a licence will be punished and all face coverings confiscated. A source in the South Pyongan province told Radio Free Asia mask inspections have sprung up on “every road and alley” as teams seek to bust any unauthorised factories.
North Korea has reported no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a claim that health experts question.
Pyongyang has imposed strict border controls and quarantine measures to prevent an outbreak.
The wearing of face masks is mandatory in public, hence the huge surge in the demand for face coverings in recent weeks.
A second source in South Pyongan said: “Even though there is soaring demand for masks, the authorities have only been granting permission to factories in Pyongyang to import, produce or sell the materials needed to produce masks.
“This is a very biased policy that saves factories only in Pyongyang and selling them nationally.”
The regime has cited “quality control” as the reason behind their crackdown.
But a source, speaking anonymously, said North Koreans suspect “it is because people are flocking to buy the unlicensed masks because they are of higher quality and cost less than the officially licensed ones.”
The rollout of the inspections is designed to protect factories in the capital Pyongyang who have been authorised to make and sell masks.
Despite not having declared a single coronavirus infection, North Korea has slapped strict rules on its 25.5 million population in response to the pandemic.
Anyone caught within a kilometre of the Chinese border will be shot, the government has warned.
And entire counties in the hermit kingdom have been put into quarantine.
In July Kim’s regime warned anyone caught without a facemask in public would face three months of hard labour.
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Students were among those recruited to carry out “facemask patrols” to enforce the strict rule.
Last week North Koreans were urged to remain indoors as the government said seasonal yellow dust blowing in from China might carry the novel coronavirus into the country.
The claim that the virus that causes COVID-19 could spread to North Korea from the Gobi Desert, 1,200 miles away, appears unsupported.
Two metres is a common social-distancing metric, although the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says droplets containing the virus can sometimes linger in the air for hours.
State-run KRT television said on Wednesday the yellow dust and fine dust may contain harmful substances, such as heavy metals and pathogenic microorganisms including viruses.
A news reader told North Korean viewers: “People must pay attention to personal hygiene after returning from outside.
“Also, workers should avoid outdoor construction work even at reconstruction sites.”
A statement carried in North Korea’s official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun read: “As the new coronavirus infections continue to spread around the world, the need to deal with the yellow dust and take thorough measures has become more critical.”
The North Korean newspaper said citizens should refrain from outdoor activities and must follow prevention guidelines such as wearing masks when they go outside.
On Thursday, the Russian embassy in North Korea wrote on Facebook that North Korea’s Foreign Ministry had ordered all visitors to the country and its staff to wait out the dust storm inside.
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