Back To Top

Dozens of foreign diplomats flee Pyongyang amid coronavirus fears

An aerial view shows residential buildings in Pyongyang, North Korea. (123rf)
An aerial view shows residential buildings in Pyongyang, North Korea. (123rf)
Dozens of diplomats posted in Pyongyang, North Korea shuttered offices and left the country Monday, following weeks of the country’s tight quarantine restrictions on diplomatic missions to contain the novel coronavirus.

The North, which has not reported a single infection, is enforcing strong quarantine measures, closing borders with China, where the epidemic started, and confining foreign nationals, including diplomats, to their own premises. Pyongyang lifted the monthlong quarantine on foreign diplomats on March 2.

The “forced quarantine” was one of the “disproportionate” anti-virus measures that prompted the temporary shutdown of the embassy, Germany’s Foreign Ministry said, blaming the North for leaving it no choice but to “bring back the staff.”

France and Switzerland closed their diplomatic missions and relocated staff there to Vladivostok, Russia, the same day. France and Switzerland, which maintain an exchange office instead of an embassy, said extreme containment measures were the reason they pulled their staff out of Pyongyang.

“It’s fundamentally about the question of access inside North Korea and the way that the North Koreans are applying quarantine,” Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at Council on Foreign Relations, told Voice of America.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapport for human rights in North Korea, urged the North on Monday to grant full access for medical and humanitarian experts, as a widespread infection would endanger the already malnourished North Korean population.

By Choi Si-young (