Seoul, Korea, Republic of, Mar 9 – Several embassies in North Korea closed Monday as many diplomats were flown out following weeks of tight quarantine restrictions imposed by Pyongyang over the spread of the novel coronavirus.
North Korea has not confirmed a single infection but has imposed strict rules, including closing its borders and putting thousands of its own people into isolation.
It has also subjected hundreds of foreigners — including diplomats — to a virtual lockdown in their own premises.
Russian ambassador Alexander Matsegora described the conditions as “morally crushing”.
Those restrictions were finally eased last week after more than a month, when more than 200 foreigners were allowed to leave their compounds.
Swedish ambassador Joachim Bergstrom tweeted a selfie from the city centre with the caption: “I have never been happier standing on Kim Il Sung Square.”
Monday’s evacuation came after reports that a special flight was being arranged to fly diplomats and other foreigners from Pyongyang to the Russian city of Vladivostok.
“Sad to say farewell this morning to colleagues from German Embassy and French Office #NorthKorea which are closing temporarily,” tweeted Colin Crooks, the British ambassador to Pyongyang, adding that his embassy would remain open.
The Vladivostok airport website showed an Air Koryo flight JS 271 landed at Vladivostok from Pyongyang at 10:49 am local time (0049 GMT).
It was “business as normal” in Pyongyang but everyone was wearing masks “without exception”, German ambassador Pit Heltmann said on arrival.
“Everybody does that,” he told AFP. “And there is a certain tension in the city and all over the country, because people are aware of the coronavirus and they have it in all their media, so it’s the biggest issue that they are dealing with at the moment.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned last month of “serious consequences” if the virus reaches his country, which has banned tourists and suspended international trains and flights.
Pyongyang, subject to multiple international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, has a weak medical infrastructure and analysts say prevention is its only option.
The number of coronavirus cases has risen worldwide to more than 110,000 across 100 nations and territories, with around 3,800 dead.