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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Cross-border train routes to North Korea from China and Russia have closed in recent days, state media reports from both countries’ state media indicated on Friday and Monday, as Pyongyang steps up efforts to prevent the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus into the DPRK.
The China News Service (CNS) reporting details of three route suspensions on Friday, with Russia’s TASS news agency following up with a report on Monday announcing routes to the North Korean capital Pyongyang through the Far East city of Vladivostok had also been put on hold.
The rail closures are the latest measures taken as part of broader travel and trade restrictions gradually implemented by North Korea over the last couple of weeks and resulting in the near-complete closure of its borders.
The process began with a ban on tourists entering the country around January 21, resulting in flight cancellations from both Air China and the DPRK’s flag carrier Air Koryo and affecting both Russia and China.
Some train routes were believed to still be operating since the first preventative measures were taken nearly two weeks ago, but it appears both the eastern route from Vladivostok and the western route via the Chinese border city of Dandong have been shut indefinitely.
The Chinese wire service CNS reported on Friday that, according to the state-run China Railway, both train numbers K27/K28 between Beijing and Pyongyang via Dandong, as well as train numbers 95/98 direct from Dandong had been temporarily suspended.
The report added that another route crossing the border at Jian-Manpho (train numbers 7263/8271) was also suspended from January 31.
On Monday, TASS reported that the North Korean government had decided to suspend routes from Pyongyang to the Russian cities of Khabarovsk and Moscow via Vladivostok as part of the coronavirus prevention measures.
It added that trains currently in the DPRK that are scheduled to return to Russia are subject to quarantine measures and would not yet be allowed to cross.
Meanwhile, Air Koryo updated its website over the weekend with new schedules for its routes to Vladivostok and the Chinese city of Shenyang.
A new schedule entry for Vladivostok lasting from January 28 to March 27 was added, showing arrival and departure times blank — a possible indication of canceled flights to reflect news of the route’s closure from other sources in recent days.
The Shenyang schedule also received a new entry for the period of January 30 to March 28 showing the same blank space under arrival and departure times.
It is still unclear if flights to Beijing will be fully suspended after extensive cancellations, though the route operated by Air Koryo went ahead as scheduled most recently on February 1. An airline representative declined to comment when reached via telephone on Monday.
North Korean state media on Monday meanwhile continued its now daily updates of the country’s own prevention efforts, as well as the latest patient numbers and death toll from the coronavirus in China and abroad.
No cases inside the DPRK have been reported either by state media or other sources.
Edited by Oliver Hotham