North Korea allows citizens stranded abroad by Covid to return home for first time since 2020

The announcement late on Saturday is expected to lead to the return of North Korean students, workers and others who have been shut out because of the pandemic. Many of those who work abroad are in China and Russia.

“With the latest announcement, it’s expected that a large-scale return of North Koreans will be made via the land route as well,” said Dr Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea.

Given the week-long quarantine requirement, it appears unlikely that North Korea will open up to foreign tourists again anytime soon, Dr Cheong said.

If there are no Covid outbreaks among returning citizens, foreigners could then be expected to enter the country next year, he added.

South Korea’s spy agency predicted earlier this month that the North was preparing to further reopen gradually in an attempt to kick-start the economy.

On Tuesday, a commercial flight from North Korea’s state-owned airline, Air Koryo, travelled to Beijing, the country’s first known international commercial flight since early 2020.

The plane returned to Pyongyang on the same day, but it was not clear who was on board.

North Korea resumed cargo train services with China, its biggest trading partner, late last year after making a highly dubious claim that Kim Jong-un’s regime had overcome Covid – just three months after it first admitted to having cases.

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