In a sign that the country may be easing its draconian COVID-19 restrictions, North Korea says it is allowing its citizens abroad to return home.
The State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters made the announcement in a statement carried on state media Sunday.
Those returning home, the statement added, “will be put under proper medical observation at quarantine wards for a week.”
The announcement signaled Pyongyang’s easing of border restrictions and the first time North Koreans have been informed about its borders reopening for its citizens, per NK News.
Those who have been forced to stay abroad because of the pandemic have mostly been students and workers in China and Russia. The workers are a key source of foreign income for the country.
North Korea banned tourists, jetted out diplomats, and severely curtailed border traffic and trade after the pandemic began. The lockdown has further worsened the country’s chronic economic difficulties and food insecurity.
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Earlier this month, South Korea’s spy agency said North Korea was preparing to further reopen its borders gradually in a bid to revive its economy.
On Tuesday, a North Korean commercial jet landed in Beijing in what was the North’s first such commercial international flight known to leave the country in more than 3 years. The plane returned from Beijing later in the day, but it wasn’t known who was aboard it.
In August 2022, North Korea made a highly dubious claim to have overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. In the following month, the North resumed freight train service with China, its biggest trading partner and economic pipeline, but much of its restrictions on border crossings by individuals have remained in effect.