North Korea withdraws from Tokyo Summer Olympics over concerns about COVID-19

North Korea on Tuesday became the first country to withdraw from this year’s Tokyo Olympics due to concerns about COVID-19.

The announcement was made by the North Korean Ministry of Sport. This is the first time a player from this country has missed the Summer Olympics since boycotting Seoul in 1988 during the Cold War.

The ministry said on its website that a plan to withdraw was planned on March 25 in a meeting between the North Korean Olympic Committee and sports minister Kim Il-kook.

“The Commission has decided not to participate in the 32nd Olympic Games to protect athletes from the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus,” the ministry said.

Pyongyang claims that there are no cases of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, but experts say this is unlikely. The country has previously described its anti-virus efforts as a “national issue” and has taken steps such as banning tourists and restricting cross-border traffic.

North Korea’s withdrawal from Tokyo shatters expectations for a joint South Korean team at a major international sporting event planned by South Korean President Moon Jae-in in hopes of rebuilding momentum to improve North-South relations. ..

The two countries are still in a state of technical war after the 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, and relations have recently deteriorated amid the stalemate in nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea. ..

It is also a retreat of plans to pursue South Korea’s joint bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics, agreed at the 2018 summit between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In a statement, the Ministry of Unification of South Korea, which heads the Inter-Korean Liaison Office, said Seoul wanted the Summer Olympics to provide an opportunity to “promote peace and reconciliation between South Korea.”

“I regret that it didn’t happen,” the ministry added.

Choi Young-sam, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Seoul, added that the government wants Pyongyang to continue attending the event.

A spokesman told reporters, “We are supporting Japan’s Olympic Games with measures against coronavirus. The Olympic Games are a celebration of world peace, and we still have time left, so we look forward to North Korea’s participation.” Said.

“We will prepare the best possible stage to welcome athletes from all countries and regions,” the organizer of the Tokyo Olympics said in a statement.

The Tokyo Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 23, Held without foreign spectators..

Reuters contributed to this report.