North Korea to Reopen Classes in June, Raising Coronavirus Fears For Students in Unprepared Schools

Residents in North Korea are growing anxious about the approaching June 1 reopening of schools that were shut down to combat the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, worried that the deadly virus could spread among students as they return to classes without necessary sanitization supples.

The schools were supposed to start Feb. 17, but authorities extended winter break to March 23, then April 20, before settling on June 1.

“The Central Committee [of the Korean Workers’ Party] ordered schools in the province to start on June 1, so they are busy preparing for classes,” a resident of North Hamgyong province, who requested anonymity to speak freely, told RFA’s Korean Service May 23.

“After postponing the first day of school four times, due to the coronavirus, they are expected to open this time,” said the source.

According to the source the order was given to all levels of the province’s educational system on May 15.

“According to [their] instructions, educational institution personnel should inspect educational sites with quarantine agencies to prepare for the smooth opening of schools based on the inspection results,” the source said.

“Upon hearing the Ministry of Education’s decision to open up in June, residents are worried that the epidemic will spread among the students,” said the source.

“In educational institutions, such as schools and kindergartens, group activities are essential. [Residents] are worried because [children] do not have necessary basics of personal hygiene and disinfection,” the source said.

But the source said that the government is ordering schools to prepare hygiene measures.

“The Ministry of Education is requiring schools and kindergartens to prepare disinfectant makers and base materials for disinfectant to ensure the students [can use it],” the source said.

“They are not issuing [the schools] any supplies they are only saying the schools should have strict quarantine measures and thoroughly conduct on-site disinfection,” the source added.

Another source who requested anonymity to avoid legal trouble, from Ryanggang province, told RFA on Tuesday, that kindergartens and schools there had also been ordered to start in June.

“Each school here in Hyesan [the province’s largest city], is deeply troubled about how they will prevent the spread of the coronavirus among the students,” the second source said.

The second source also explained that the authorities issued quarantine directives, but did not provide any supplies.

“The provincial education ministry issued guidelines to each school, calling for quarantine preparations and preventative measures so they can respond quickly under unexpected circumstances, and maintain constant pressure against the coronavirus,” said the second source.

“They didn’t provide any quarantine supplies, they just ordered the schools to prepare the base materials for disinfectant and to stockpile emergency medicines on their own, so residents and school officials are criticizing the educational authorities,” the second source added.

The second source said it was likely that the authorities know that their directives are not enough to prepare each school for a reopening, but they have other things to worry about.

“The Central Committee must be aware that it is impossible for each school to secure disinfectant or quarantine supplies on its own, especially when basic living necessities like water and electricity are not properly supplied in Hyesan,” said the second source.

“But under these circumstances, the authorities can still be so brazen to give schools and students orders to strictly follow their quarantine guidelines.”

While North Korea claims to the world that it does not have a single confirmed case of COVID-19 within its borders, RFA reported last month that the government admitted publicly through lectures to neighborhood watch groups that the virus was spreading in three parts of the country including the capital Pyongyang.

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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