SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea has approved the return of its citizens who were abroad after years of strict border restrictions during the COVID pandemic, state media reported on Sunday as the isolated country cracks open its border to passenger travel.
In a statement carried by the KCNA news agency, the State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters said on Saturday the approval was in line with its adjustment of the anti-epidemic degree following “eased worldwide pandemic situation.”
“Those returned will be put under proper medical observation at quarantine wards for a week,” the statement said.
The announcement comes days after an Air Koryo flight from Pyongyang landed in Beijing for the first time since pandemic lockdowns began in 2020 amid a slow reopening of one of the world’s most politically and economically isolated countries.
It wasn’t immediately clear who was aboard the flight, but Western tour companies that operate in North Korea has said it appeared to be a flight that would carry back North Koreans who had been stuck in China by the years of border closures.
Cargo train and ship traffic has slowly increased over the past year, but North Korea has only just begun to allow some international passenger travel.
In a first since before the pandemic, Chinese and Russian government delegations flew to Pyongyang last month and this month buses carrying North Korean athletes to a taekwondo tournament in Kazakhstan crossed the border into China.
Many foreign delegations closed their embassies in Pyongyang because they were unable to rotate staff or ship in supplies for much of the pandemic.
(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Editing by Daniel Wallis)