North Korea has apparently decided to reopen its border after more than three years of its tight virus curbs largely due to economic challenges from the closure, South Korea's Unification Ministry said on Monday.
North Korea said Sunday it has allowed its citizens abroad to return home amid eased concerns about the Covid-19 pandemic and will put them under quarantine for a week, reports Yonhap News Agency.
The decision marked the secretive regime making official the reopening of its border.
"Due to its border closure, North Korea is presumed to have faced various economic difficulties, and there were probably many inconveniences as personnel exchanges were blocked," Koo Byoung-sam, a spokesperson at the Ministry, told a regular press briefing.
Still, the Ministry viewed the North's latest move as "limited border reopening," as the North has only approved the return of its nationals abroad, without mentioning when it will allow entry by foreigners.
With the latest decision, more North Korean diplomats, labourers and students staying in foreign nations are expected to return.
There are also concerns that North Korean defectors in China could be forcibly repatriated to the North.
The Unification Ministry voiced "grave concerns" about the possible repatriation of North Korean defectors who were arrested and detained in China.
"We'd like to stress once again that such defectors should not be forcibly sent back to the North against their will. Their own will should be respected," Koo said.
North Korea, which closed its border in January 2020, imposed "maximum emergency anti-epidemic" measures in May 2022, when the country reported its first Covid-19 case.
In signs of border reopening, North Korea has recently permitted its athletes to cross the border into China to take part in the ITF Taekwon-Do World Championships in Kazakhstan.
It also resumed the operation of commercial flights with China and Russia last week.