Coronavirus: Foreigners leave N Korea on first commercial flight for weeks

Joachim BergstromImage source, Joachim Bergstrom/Twitter
Image caption,
'Never been happier': Swedish ambassador Joachim Bergstrom posted this picture last week after the quarantine ended

Around 80 foreigners who were quarantined for weeks in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, have finally left the country.

The Air Koryo flight to Vladivostok is the first commercial flight to leave North Korea in over a month, said specialist news site NK News.

Flight KOR271 landed in the far-eastern Russian city on Monday morning.

The embassy staff who left had been confined to their compounds for weeks during February and early March.

Among those onboard were diplomats from Germany, Russia, France, Switzerland, Poland, Romania, Mongolia and Egypt, Russia's embassy in North Korea said in a Facebook post.

Russia said it had issued visas to diplomats and "representatives of international and national humanitarian organisations... as well as foreign businessmen".

North Korea quarantined hundreds of foreigners in the capital earlier this year, in an attempt to stop the coronavirus from breaking out.

Russian ambassador Alexander Matsegora described the conditions as "morally crushing".

There have been no reported cases of coronavirus in North Korea, though some experts have cast doubt on this.

North Korea borders China, where the virus emerged, and South Korea, where there has been a major outbreak.


Flight KOR271 left Pyongyang at 08:40 local time on Monday (23:40 on Sunday) and arrived in Vladivostok at 10:47, said flight tracking site FlightAware.

It's not known how or when the passengers will return to their home countries.

The British ambassador to North Korea tweeted early on Monday that he was "sad to say farewell to colleagues from [the] Germany Embassy and French Office".

Colin Crooks added that other embassies were closing temporarily but that the British embassy would remain open.

Image source, AFP / Getty
Image caption,
Some of the staff and their families arriving at Pyongyang airport

North Korea had previously quarantined around 380 foreigners - mostly diplomats and staff in Pyongyang - in their compounds for at least 30 days.

It lifted the restrictions last week after more than a month.

Swedish ambassador Joachim Bergstrom reacted by tweeting a selfie with the caption: "I have never been happier standing on Kim ll Sung Square."

However, foreigners' interactions with locals were still restricted, said NK News, as they were not allowed to visit restaurants, shops, gyms and hotels in the city.

There are concerns that North Korea, which is subject to international sanctions, lacks the health infrastructure to test and treat those infected.

The number of infections worldwide is more than 107,000, with about 3,600 deaths.

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