North Koreans could face three months of hard labour if they’re caught without a face mask, according to reports.
The secretive nation, which has claimed to have no cases of coronavirus, is nevertheless introducing harsh new hygiene rules in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease.
While many countries around the world have introduced mandatory public mask policies since the beginning of the pandemic, North Korea is alone in its punitive method of enforcement.
Students will be recruited to carry out “face mask patrols” to check their fellow citizens are wearing the correct facial coverings while out in public.
Anyone found without a mask will be sentenced to three months of “disciplinary labour” as punishment for failing to comply.
North Korean official told Radio Free Asia: “Beginning on the 16th, an inspection team is being organised here in Pyongyang and also in provincial cities with police officers, and college and high school students to conduct intensive crackdowns on people who don’t wear masks.
“Whoever doesn’t wear a mask will be punished with more than three months of disciplinary labour, regardless of who they are.”
Being sent to a labour camp is a terrifyingly common punishment in North Korea, with many people who have criticised Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un or tried to defect known to have been sent to one.
The camps are located in secluded rural parts of the country, in which prisoners are regularly beaten, starved and executed or simply imprisoned for years on end, according to those who survived them and fled the state.
The nation has not officially recorded any cases of Covid-19 but has implemented extensive prevention measures including banning gatherings, making masks compulsory and requiring border workers to quarantine.
A report by Radio Free Asia in April said officials had told citizens that there have in fact been cases of coronavirus confirmed in North Korea as early as March.
Lecturers speaking to organisations and neighbourhood watch groups in public speeches had reportedly said there were cases within the country but did not go into any specifics.
Kim Jong-un himself was rumoured to have contracted coronavirus after he disappeared from public view for months, only recently resurfacing at a government meeting about the pandemic.