March 19 (UPI) -- North Korea has postponed the start of the school year despite steps taken toward ending mandatory quarantines for segments of the population.
A South Korean unification ministry official said Thursday the postponement is part of the regime's response to the coronavirus pandemic, South Korean news service Seoul Pyongyang News reported.
"There is no specific details on the postponement of the start of the school year," the official said. Schools could open after April 1, according to the source.
North Korean state media has previously suggested schools delay opening in order to "prevent the spread of infectious diseases."
Schools are also "training and educating" students on hygiene as their vacation is extended through March, Pyongyang's Korean Central Television had said last month, according to Seoul.
A source in North Korea told SPN the school year is likely to begin on or around April 15, the birth anniversary of the nation's founder Kim Il Sung.
"Since there is a mandatory two-day holiday, schools will actually open on April 17," the source said.
The coronavirus has infected more than 225,000 people worldwide and is connected to more than 9,200 reported deaths. It could also have major consequences for North Korea's food security.
Kwon Tae-jin, director of the Center for North Korean and Northeast Asian Studies at GS&J Institute in South Korea, told Radio Free Asia's Korean service COVID-19 may be having an immediate and adverse effect on North Korea's food situation.
"I expect it will have a negative impact on the current year's harvest as well," Kwon said.
North Korea began to close its borders in January and heavily restricts movement across its 880-mile border with China, where the outbreak began.
The restrictions disrupt the flow of farming equipment, including fertilizer and machinery from China, Kwon said.
"It is highly likely the COVID-19 situation will disrupt North Korean farming plans," the analyst said.