50,000 N.Koreans Press-Ganged into Mt. Baekdu Treks
Jay Yim, Feb. 14, 2020, 10:34 a.m.
Some 50,000 North Koreans have been press-ganged into trekking tours of Mt. Baekdu since December to stiffen their ideological spine and tighten internal solidarity.
Since leader Kim Jong-un rode a white steed up the mountain last December in a "Game of Thrones"-type photo op, "the number of participants from across the country in a winter expedition to revolutionary battlefields in Mt. Baekdu has reached nearly 50,000," the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Thursday.
But Kim himself has shut himself up at home for almost three weeks amid coronavirus fears and the regime is stepping up quarantine efforts.
Cho Han-bum of the Korea Institute for National Unification said, "People joining the tours marched hundreds of kilometers through many villages without surgical masks."
Mt. Baekdu is the alleged birthplace of Kim's ancestors and a symbol of the revolution. But it is unclear why the heavy symbolism that surrounds it would require so many people to traipse around its snowy slopes.
Meanwhile, there are fears that North Korea is seeing an increase in coronavirus infections. On Wednesday, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's representative in North Korea, Bir Mandal, expressed doubt about the regime's claim that there is no coronavirus outbreak there, according to VOA.
The regime extended the quarantine period for North Koreans and foreigners with suspected coronavirus infections from 15 to 30 days. The Rodong Sinmun said this was prompted by an "urgent decision" of the rubberstamp Supreme People's Assembly.
"While the number of patients and deaths is increasing in various countries around the world, outcomes of some studies show that the incubation period for coronavirus is 24 days," the daily wrote.