North Korea to allow citizens abroad to return home as pandemic eases
Published: Aug 27, 2023 09:44 PM
People line to check-in a flight of Air Koryo for Pyongyang, North Korea at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on August 26, 2023. Photo:VCG

People line to check-in a flight of Air Koryo for Pyongyang, North Korea at Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing on August 26, 2023. Photo:VCG

North Korea will allow its citizens abroad to return home, the country's state-owned media reported, as they have been stranded overseas for over three years after North Korea closed its border in January 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic.  

The decision was adjusted based on the anti-epidemic degree in reference to the eased worldwide pandemic situation. Returning North Korean citizens will be put under proper medical observation at quarantine wards for a week, according to state media KCNA on Sunday, citing North Korea's State Emergency Epidemic Prevention Headquarters. 

Last week, the first international commercial flight from North Korea in three years landed in Beijing.  

Observers and people in the business community reached by the Global Times generally have positive expectations that the country will reopen step-by-step.

"It is believed North Korea will reopen the borers in phases, first allowing the return of North Korean workers and students, and then businesspeople, before greenlighting international tourism," Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told the Global Times.

Lü Chao, an expert on Korean Peninsula issues at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, who has a broad range of contacts within North Korea, predicts that more North Korean workers, students and diplomats who have completed their contracted period of work or term of study in China are expected to return home in batches.

Japan's Kyodo News reported in May that North Korea will send a delegation of around 200 athletes, coaches and officials to the Asian Games to be held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province in September. In June, China's General Administration of Sport and the Hangzhou Asian Games Organizing Committee said all 45 national and regional Olympic Committees in Asia had registered to participate in the Hangzhou Asian Games.

"Some say North Korea is likely to reopen next year, but I don't think it will take that long for the country to completely open. Businesspeople from both sides are yearning for reopening," said a businessman who organizes exhibitions between China and North Korea and preferred not to be named told the Global Times.

Tourism agencies that specialize in North Korea are paying close attention. One manager from a Beijing-based travel agency that brings China-based Western tourists to North Korea is more conservative, estimating tourists would be able to visit from around April 2024.

Communications between North Korea and neighboring countries have become more frequent in the post-pandemic era. In July, Chinese and Russian delegations visited North Korea to attend a military parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.