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Russians flee North Korea amid COVID-19 concerns

Russians flee North Korea amid COVID-19 concerns
Russians in North Korea crossed a land border Friday, according to a Japanese press report. File Photo by Yonhap/UPI

July 6 (UPI) -- A "Russian town" in North Korea has emptied out after Moscow decided to evacuate Russian nationals from the country, the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang said, as North Korea's plans for a COVID-19 vaccine rollout remain in limbo.

The Russian mission in North Korea said in a Facebook post Monday that a significant number of Russian nationals had left, citing an internal North Korean situation related to COVID-19.

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"On July 2, many of our colleagues and friends returned to their homeland -- those who have been working together during these difficult coronavirus times," the Embassy said. "Several diplomats, doctors and technical staff left, schools and kindergarten closed.

"Russian town located in the heart of Pyongyang ... became much quieter," the statement read. "However, the work of the diplomatic mission has not stopped, we continue to solve the tasks entrusted to us."

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The Russian Embassy did not disclose the number of people who exited the country. Japan's Kyodo news agency reported that about 90 Russian nationals left North Korea Friday via the land border between the two countries.

The group traveled by train and through Khasan Station, situated in a small Russian border town in Primorsky Krai, the report said.

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North Korea's border restrictions have banned movement since the start of the pandemic. Any visitor admitted to the country is required to complete a 30-day facility quarantine.

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"Since the strict self-isolation established by the leadership of the republic, its borders on entry are strictly closed, and therefore the rotation of [Russian] staff has not been carried out for almost two years," the Russian Embassy said.

"Everyone who ran out of contracts was forced to leave the country of morning freshness."

In February, Russian Ambassador Alexander Matsegora told Russian news service Interfax that North Korea's complete ban on imports had even diplomats like himself experiencing trouble purchasing basic food products, including flour, cooking oil and sugar.

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In June the World Health Organization reported "severe acute respiratory infections" in North Korea, citing data from Pyongyang's authorities.

North Korea has claimed no cases of coronavirus cases exist in the country.

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