North Korea: Country eases Covid rules to let in citizens stuck abroad

North Koreans waiting in line at check-in counters at Beijing International Airport on 22 August
Image caption,North Koreans waiting in line at check-in counters at Beijing International Airport on 22 August

By Derek Cai

BBC News, Singapore

North Korea will start allowing in citizens who have been locked out for almost four years due to pandemic border controls, state media KCNA said.

Returning individuals will be subject to a seven-day quarantine under medical supervision at dedicated facilities.

It appears to be its latest act to scale back Covid restrictions, coming just days after the first Pyongyang flight landed in Beijing since 2020.

China last week reopened commercial air travel between Beijing and Pyongyang.

North Korea is one of the last few countries to do so.

Last month, Chinese and Russian officials became the first foreign dignitaries to visit North Korea since it shut its borders, arriving in Pyongyang to attend a military parade.

Weeks later, the country allowed a delegation of its athletes to participate in a taekwondo competition in Kazakhstan.

Last Tuesday, an Air Koryo plane – North Korea’s flagship carrier – arrived in China, a day after Chinese foreign ministry said it had approved the restarting of commercial flights between the two countries.

It was unclear who was on board the return flight to Pyongyang, but Yonhap news reported a flurry of North Korean travellers waiting in line at Beijing International Airport.

Many of the stranded North Korean students, workers, and diplomats have been stuck in China for three and a half years.

While citizens are now allowed to return home, it is unclear when foreign diplomats and aid workers will be let into the country.

Reclusive North Korea had sealed itself off in early 2020 to keep the pandemic out, but also walled itself off from all trade and diplomatic ties, cutting off imports of essential goods like food and medicine.

Many foreign delegations, unable to rotate their staff or send in supplies for much of the pandemic, had to shut their embassies in Pyongyang.

Since then, North Korea has been facing food shortages, made worse by strict international sanctions placed on the country because of its nuclear programme.

But as North Korea begins to dismantle the remaining vestiges of its Covid-era restrictions, a move it says lines up with the worldwide pandemic situation, it has raised hopes that borders might soon reopen to the foreign diplomat and aid.

But the process is expected to be tightly controlled and could still take years.

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