North Korea has announced it will not take part in the Tokyo Olympics this year, saying the decision is to protect its athletes from coronavirus.
North Korea decided to sever almost all of its ties with the outside world in 2020 to prevent the 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.
The decision puts an end to South Korea’s hopes of using the Games to engage with the North amid stalled cross-border talks.
In 2018, both sides entered a joint team at the Winter Olympics which led to a series of historic summits.
Pyongyang says it has no cases of the virus, but experts say this is unlikely.
The announcement makes North Korea the first major country to skip the delayed 2020 Games because of the pandemic. The Games are currently scheduled to take place from July 23 to August 8. The Paralympics will follow, from August 24 to September.
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 during the Cold War. 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.