The North Korean authorities have abruptly sealed off Rason, a city located in North Hamgyong province of the country, causing widespread panic among the area residents. The sudden move by the hermit kingdom has led to speculation that either Kim Jong Un is planning a visit or it has come under coronavirus attack.
Located close to the borders with China and Russia, Rason city falls within the Rason Special Economic Zone, created in 1992 to encourage foreign investment and boost economic growth in the country. Having a population of 200,000, it sees a regular movement of residents crossing over to neighboring countries for business.
Is Rason sealed off due to coronavirus?
Ever since the coronavirus outbreak in December last year, North Korea has maintained that they have zero cases of the fatal virus. During the three-week disappearance of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, speculation was rife that the dictator was in hiding after some members of his team tested positive for the coronavirus. Some theories even suggested that Kim had contracted the virus during a cardiovascular surgery undertaken by a team of Chinese doctors.
Speaking to US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia, an unnamed resident of the province revealed that the authorities had started putting up blockades since the beginning of the month. "Since early this month, the authorities have blocked the public from entering the city, making it difficult for many of us. Not only train passengers, but also residents travelling by land were screened and blocked from entering."
"Many of the residents suspect the closure of the city might be coronavirus related, but the government has not divulged any reason for banning entry."
Stating that sealing off the city comes at a very odd time, the anonymous resident said: "Even when the coronavirus was at its worst in China, access to Rason was not fully controlled. We don't know the reason why they are suddenly blocking entry."
Is Kim Jong Un planning another public appearance?
On May 1, Kim reappeared after remaining untraceable for nearly three weeks. The state-owned Korean Central Television (KCTV) released a set of photographs which showed a hale and hearty Kim inaugurating a fertiliser factory near Pyongyang. However, since then Kim has once again disappeared from the public eye.
The sudden lockdown of Rason led to many to believe that a Number One event is being planned in the city. "Number One event" is an expression used for events attended by the North Korean dictator.
"Some residents say that they could be planning a Number One event there. There's no clear reason yet, though. The authorities have shut down entry to the city but have not explained in detail how long the city will be closed. This is causing further inconvenience. Residents of the city are still allowed to travel to and from there, provided they have the correct paperwork. In the train, the police and inspectors are frequently checking travel passes and tickets," the source told the publication.