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North Koreans "panic buying" at Pyongyang shops, sources say

North Koreans "panic buying" at Pyongyang shops, sources say
“Panic buying” sprees have been spotted taking place in some of Pyongyang’s stores and groceries since Monday, multiple informed sources told NK News, resulting in increasingly empty shelves and a growing shortage of key staples.
It’s unclear what’s led to the sudden surge in demand, with one source describing empty shelves and a sudden absence of staples like vegetables, flour, and sugar.
Locals have been buying “whatever is there,” one expat said, saying that “you can hardly get in” to some stores.
Both the expat and another person in Pyongyang said the surge was particularly notable on Wednesday.
Another source said large groups of locals were seen buying big amounts of mostly-imported products in some grocery stores, resulting in abrupt shortages.
Demand sharply increased this week, yet another person confirmed, saying they had been told on Tuesday to purchase supplies of some key products.
The range of items offered in shops aimed at diplomats has also diminished, they added, noting that in particular, “imported goods (are) running out.”
Since North Korea effectively closed its border on January 31, sources in the capital have told NK News that the range has slowly diminished.
While shortages were initially limited to fresh produce like imported fruit and vegetables, developments this week suggest the problems are rapidly widening.
Sources did not immediately connect the recent shortages to reporting this week suggesting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was suffering from serious health issues, however.
This may, instead, be linked to state media reports Monday that “tougher state emergency anti-epidemic steps” had been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the country’s territory.
“In border and demarcation line areas, the possibilities of inroads of the pandemic are being reexamined and thoroughgoing precautions taken in line with the lockdown of the borders and territorial air and waters,” the report said.
Given that news, one observer said that they believed there could be two reasons for the sudden panic-buying.
“Public health officials might wish to strengthen controls in order to maximize vigilance as they reopen in a limited way to China,” said Christopher Green, a lecturer at Leiden University.
“Alternatively, perhaps also, there could be a local outbreak of COVID-19 in the capital and they are hoping to end it quickly,” he added.
“Either way, panic buying is an inevitable result of public concern over supplies, especially in a country where few people trust the authorities to effectively manage emergencies.”
In what appeared to be a response to NK News‘s reporting on the shortages, Twitter account Coldnoodlefan — believed to have ties to the DPRK’s state media — shared footage Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 reportedly showing the shop “full of foodstuff.”
“No panic buying due to #COVID19,” the account said.
But the developments come as North Korean state media on Wednesday said the country was “going through hardship” and was “lagging behind” the rest of the world in some areas.
Quoting leader Kim Jong Un’s remarks at last year’s April party plenum concerning the issue, Wednesday’s article described the year as having been “serious,” “tense,” and full of “unprecedented challenges and difficulties.”
Meanwhile, despite the supply issues, students have been returning to class at schools and universities throughout the country, state media said earlier this week.

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