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Koreas to temporarily close inter-Korean liaison office over virus

The inter-Korean liaison office in Kaeseong, North Korea
The inter-Korean liaison office in Kaeseong, North Korea

South Korea and the North will temporarily suspend the operation of the inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong, amid concerns about the rapid spread of Wuhan coronavirus.

The shutdown decision was made after negotiations between the representatives of both countries earlier Thursday morning, the Unification Ministry here said. The office will close down for an unspecified time, until the threat of the spread of the newly identified virus disappears.

Fifty-eight South Koreans working at the office -- 17 government officials and 41 supporting staff members -- are expected to return by Thursday evening, the ministry added.

“We will establish an additional phone and fax lines to continue the operation of the inter-Korean liaison office,” said Lee Sang-min, the ministry’s spokesman.

During the National Security Council meeting on Thursday afternoon, Seoul’s top security officials discussed follow-up measures on the shutdown of the office.

The joint office was opened in September 2018 to foster cross-border exchanges amid thawing relations, following an inter-Korean summit in April that year.

North Korea has been on high alert to prevent the spread of the respiratory virus and is stepping up quarantine efforts, as the outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, continues to spread across Asia and the world. Pyongyang has declared a “national emergency mode,” and is making all-out efforts to keep the virus out of the country from its neighbor China.

The virus has so far killed over 170 in China, and affected more than 7,700 people across the world.

South Korea has six confirmed cases, while the North has yet to report a confirmed case of its own. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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