The state news agency KCNA has announced that North Korea’s State Emergency Prevention Headquarters has taken a notable step: allowing overseas citizens to return home. This decision is part of a gradual change in policy against COVID-19, with returnees undergoing a week of medical observation in quarantine facilities. The announcement underscores the response to the “global relief of the pandemic situation.”
Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, North Korea has closed its borders, preventing even its own citizens from entering. Current developments suggest a more flexible approach, says Cheong Seong-chang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute, which could result in a mass return of North Koreans by land.
Although North Korea has recently shown signs of lifting restrictions, experts warn that the country is not yet ready for a full opening. The North Korean health system is understaffed and fragile, lacking vaccines, treatments, and capacity for mass testing. In addition, concerns about the impact of COVID-19 in China could influence caution in North Korea, as the lifting of measures there resulted in a spike in cases and deaths.
The announcement also comes after China allowed the resumption of commercial flights between Beijing and Pyongyang, suggesting some openness in air communication between the two countries.
Although North Korea is taking steps towards easing its measures against COVID-19, it remains to be seen how it will handle the inherent challenges to its health system and the global uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.