Most foreign diplomatic missions in North Korea have closed because of the harsh coronavirus restrictions, the Russian embassy in Pyongyang affirmed on Thursday.
In a post on Facebook, the Russian embassy said that 38 foreign nationals who had left North Korea's capital on March 18 had ended their mandatory two-week quarantine and were allowed into China on Thursday.
"We wish our colleagues in the Pyongyang diplomatic corps, with whom we have become especially close during the harsh months of coronavirus confinement, a happy return home," it wrote.
It added that the "collective exit" is unlikely to "be the last" and that "the exodus of foreigners will continue."
"The locks are already fastened on the gates of the missions of Britain, Venezuela, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland and France; all the foreign staff of international humanitarian organisations have left," it said.
The UK embassy closed on May 27, 2020. A spokesperson from the Foreign Ministry told Euronews: "We maintain diplomatic relations with the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] and will seek to re-establish our presence in Pyongyang as soon as we can."
A French diplomatic source confirmed to Euronews that "following the drastic containment measures taken by North Korea since the end of January 2020, which target foreign representations in particular and seriously hamper their proper functioning, France, in conjunction with its European partners, has temporarily closed the French Cooperation Office in Pyongyang until these measures are relaxed."
North Korea shut down its border and imposed a strict lockdown a year ago in response to the pandemic which severely curtailed external trade and dealt another major blow to an already fragile economy.
Pyongyang claims to not have recorded a single COVID-19 case but experts have cast doubt on this claim.
According to the Russian embassy, there are now fewer than 290 foreign nationals in North Korea with only nine ambassadors and four chargés d'affaires representing their countries.
"The people leaving the Korean capital are understandable - not everyone can endure the unprecedented restrictions, acute shortage of essential goods, including medicines, and lack of opportunities to resolve health problems," the Russian embassy said.
Some Russian diplomatic staff have left. Earlier this month, the embassy shared the arduous journey they had to undertake to return to Russia which included a 32-hour train ride followed by two hours on a bus and ending with a cart ride over the last one-kilometre stretch.
The UN announced on March 20 that its remaining staff in North Korea, working for the World Food Programme, had left the country.
“The strict COVID prevention measures have impacted humanitarian operations in (North Korea), causing reduced operational capacity, stock out of essential humanitarian supplies, and delayed delivery of humanitarian programme," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said then.
“The U.N. is working with the government in support of a COVAX vaccination campaign and hopes it will provide an opportunity for staff to return and to scale up our support," he added.
North Korea is to be allocated a total of 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines before the end of May by the COVAX programme, co-led by the World Health Organisation.