North Korea decided to sever almost all of its ties with the outside world in 2020 to prevent an influx of coronavirus cases. The country has not reported a major outbreak of Covid-19, and there have been no indications one has taken place, though experts doubt Pyongyang’s claim the country has not seen a single case of the virus.
Foreign diplomats and aid workers have also fled the country en masse in recent months, citing shortages of goods and extreme restrictions on daily life, according to the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang.
According to a report published Tuesday on DPRK Sports, a state media outlet focused on sports affairs, North Korean officials announced that the country would not be participating in this summer’s Games in order to “protect players from the world public health crisis caused by Covid-19.”
The decision was made by the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) Olympic Committee, which held a video conference meeting with committee members and sports officials on March 25 in Pyongyang, DPRK Sports reported.
The Games are currently scheduled to take place from July 23 to August 8. The Paralympics will follow, from August 24 to September 5.
This is the first time North Korea has missed the Olympics since it boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. In 2018, the leaders of two Koreas agreed to pursue co-hosting the Olympic Games in 2032, but the inter-Korean discussion on the matter ceased in 2019.
The Olympic Games were originally scheduled for 2020, but organizers were forced to postpone the Olympics for the first time in the event’s history due to the pandemic.
The first event of the Games, the Olympic Torch Relay, officially launched on March 25. The Olympic Flame is now on its way across the country, carried by 10,000 runners through 47 prefectures in a 121-day journey from Fukushima to Tokyo.
But the resumption of the Games was a controversial choice, with mounting logistical challenges and concerns about the pandemic. Officials in Japan have expressed concern over a possible “fourth wave” in the pandemic and Osaka city has canceled its Olympic Torch relay events citing a rise in cases.
Though public support for the event in Japan continues to be muted, organizers have pushed ahead. The Games is likely to look very different this year, however. Last month, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee said international spectators would be refused entry into Japan due to the prevalence of the coronavirus in the country and abroad. The Paralympics would also not be welcoming traveling fans, said the committee.