The two Koreas have agreed to shut down a jointly-run liaison office at Kaesong until the threat of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is “completely resolved,” Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) said in a statement on Thursday.
The move, which follows Pyongyang’s earlier moves to ban all international tourism and institute a one-month quarantine on foreigners visiting from China, will see South Korean staff based at the office forced to return home as early as possible.
There are currently 58 South Koreans, including 17 officials, based at the office in Kaesong, according to the ministry, which also said that the two Koreas will maintain contact through a newly-established communication channel.
“Today, the South and the North, through consultations between the South and North’s liaison officers, have decided to temporarily suspend the liaison office until the danger of the novel coronavirus is completely resolved,” an unnamed MOU official told reporters on Thursday.
“The South and the North have decided to maintain the liaison work of the inter-Korean joint liaison office through opening special telephone and fax hotline between Seoul and Pyongyang.”
Reports emerged earlier on Thursday that around ten South Korean staff scheduled to enter Kaesong that morning had failed to do so “due to measures made by North Korea.”
North Korea has in the wake of news of the rapidly-spreading coronavirus set up an “emergency quarantine command” to deal with the threat, with top ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday describing the issue as a matter of “national survival.”
The newspaper reported Thursday that the country’s North Korean hygiene and quarantine system was “transitioning into a national emergency quarantine system” while the danger from the coronavirus persists.
The Rodong also said that workers of the newly-organized “emergency quarantine command” in provinces, cities, and counties were working on “revolutionary countermeasures” against the virus, including setting up venues for quarantine and treatment.
Quarantine workers have been dispatched to the North Pyongan, Jagang, and Ryanggang provinces, the report said, adding that those citizens “back from business trips” abroad are undergoing inspection for signs of infection.
Party and state organ officials of Pyongyang, Phyongan Province, and Nampho, and workers at the country’s borders, airports, and ports are taking “passionate” efforts to prevent the spread of disease, it continued, with items coming into the DPRK from abroad being checked for virus.
The Hygiene and Quarantine Station in the city of Anju is also reportedly working on “hygiene propaganda” to educate the region’s residents about the importance of wearing masks, washing their hands, and ventilating their homes.
Edited by Oliver Hotham