North Korea to skip Tokyo Games because of Covid-19 fears

North Korea will not take part in the Tokyo Olympics this year for fear of corona viruses, the country’s sports ministry said on Monday.

It is the first country to make the decision to skip the games, which are set to start on July 23rd. The decision was made at a meeting of the country’s Olympic Committee on March 25 to “protect athletes from the global health crisis caused by the Covid-19,” the statement published on the Ministry of Sport website.

North Korea has not reported any internal Covid-19 numbers, and very little is known about the pandemic in the secret and closed country. However, leader Kim Jong Un made an unusual and tearful apology to the North Korean people in October for failing during the crisis.

This year’s Tokyo Games were originally supposed to take place in 2020, but have been pushed back due to the pandemic. The organizers have banned international viewers. However, Japan’s rising case numbers and slow vaccination program have raised questions about whether the Games should even take place.

Kim Il Guk, North Korea’s Minister of Sports and President of the Olympic Committee of North Korea, is greeted by North Korean residents upon his arrival at Tokyo Haneda Airport in November 2018.Kyodo / Reuters

It was hoped that the Olympics would be an opportunity for North and South Korea, which are technically still at war, to compete again under the same flag as the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.

The South Korean Unification Ministry said Tuesday it was “hoping that the Tokyo Olympics could be an opportunity to promote peace in the Korean peninsula, as well as inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation, but we find it a pity we can’t Covid -19 situation. “

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The number of Covid-19 cases in Japan has steadily increased, with 1,000 to 2,000 cases per day in March.

Around 11,000 athletes and tens of thousands of coaches, along with other officials and broadcasters, are expected to attend the Games. NBC Universal, the parent company of NBC News, owns the US media rights to the upcoming Olympics.

Relations between North and South and between North Korea and the US have been strained since a summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim in February 2019 due to disputes over sanctions. Kim has since threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal in protest at what he called US hostility.

State Secretary Antony Blinken beat up the north last month for “systematic and widespread abuse against his own people”. He also said Washington had entered North Korea through multiple channels since mid-February but had received no response.

In late March, North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the Sea of ​​Japan, describing them early Friday as a new type of tactically guided weapon.

Stella Kim contributed.

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