North Korea has prohibited the entry into the capital Pyongyang as part of measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus while locking down cities, including one along the border with China, South Korean lawmakers said Friday.
The moves were apparently prompted following instructions by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has stepped up efforts to keep the virus out of the country.
North Korea has cut off traffic to and from China and Russia since earlier this year in the wake of the virus's outbreak, dealing a crushing blow to the nation's trade with the two neighbors and, in turn, to the broader economy.
Pyongyang claims the virus has not made inroads into the country, but it has become more nervous about the pandemic amid mounting expectations that the risk of infection will increase during the winter season, North Korean watchers said.
On Friday, South Korea's intelligence agency reported to the nation's lawmakers about the current situation in the North.
The lawmakers quoted the agency as saying North Korea shut down Hyesan on the border with China on Nov. 1, and the western city of Nampo, which has the country's biggest port, on Nov. 6, while banning the entry into Pyongyang from other cities last Friday.
The South Korea-based Daily NK, a media outlet that specializes in news related to the North, has reported that border guards in Hyesan engaged in smuggling with Chinese contacts, citing sources.
The lawmakers also quoted the agency as saying some people, including a local official, have been executed to take responsibility for the smuggling and the sharp depreciation of the North Korean won.
North Korea, meanwhile, has urged its diplomatic missions abroad not to take actions that would provoke the United States, according to the agency.
In the run-up to the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden in January, North Korea is believed to be adopting a cautious stance on relations with Washington.