North Korea withdraws from Tokyo Olympics, citing COVID-19 concerns

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Friday, April 9, 2021

On Tuesday, North Korean government announced it would not participate in the delayed Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics "to protect players from the world public health crisis caused by COVID-19", the Associated Press reported. It is North Korea's first official withdrawal from Olympics since their boycott of the 1988 Summer Olympics held in Seoul, South Korea, CBS News reported.

According to South Korea's Ministry of Unification, this is the first time North Korea withdrew from a major international sports event due to concerns of an infectious disease. Several athletes from multiple disciplines did not participate in the 2016 Summer Olympics over concerns of the Zika virus, but North Korea did.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in had hoped the two nations could field a joint team similar to its unified Korean Peninsula team at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Al Jazeera reported.

While North Korea claims to have no cases of the coronavirus, professor of North Korean studies at Ewha Womans University Park Won Gon says it has shown "a coronavirus-related neurosis since it declared an emergency anti-virus system in January last year", adding it was very unlikely the country would be able to procure enough vaccines for its population by July, when the 2020 Olympics are scheduled to take place.

In November, Daily NK reported North Korea had placed 81 thousand people, in quarantine excluding the soldiers in quarantine; and, by October 22, 32,011 people were placed in isolation. A source told Daily NK over 300 people had died in an isolation centre in Anju, South Pyongan.

Director of Asian Studies at Temple University, Japan Campus Jeff Kingston told CBS this decision was a "setback for diplomacy". CBS also reported Seoul's disappointment at the nation's non-attendance, depriving South Korea a chance to discuss relations with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Recently, North Korea's vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea and sister of Kim Jong-un Kim Yo Jong warned March 16 "[t]he peaceful spring days of three years ago are unlikely to return", calling South Korean leaders as "all born with stupidity" and they "have become the dumb and deaf bereft of judgment". The warning came after the United States and South Korea held joint military drills in March.

This also comes after North Korea tested two ballistic missile on March 24, described by former admiral of the Japanese fleet Yoji Koda as "just the beginning of North Korean fervour."

North Korea participated in the boycotts of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and 1988 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.


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