North Korea sealed its borders more than a year ago, grounding flights and shutting its borders with neighboring China and Russia because of the pandemic.
This week, a few Russians found a way out.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that several employees at its embassy in North Korea had taken an unusual route — one that included a bus ride and a trip on a hand-pushed railroad trolley — to reach the country’s border with Russia.
The group included the embassy’s third secretary, Vladislav Sorokin, and his 3-year-old daughter, the ministry said on its official Facebook page. It also posted a photograph showing several children sitting on the trolley beside suitcases, with adults walking behind them on a railroad track and snow-capped hills in the distance.
When the group arrived at a Russian border post in Siberia, they were meet by colleagues from the Foreign Ministry and taken to an airport in Vladivostok, the ministry’s post said.
It was not clear from the post whether the group had broken any North Korean regulations or encountered any police or border officials. The ministry did not immediately respond to an email on Friday requesting further details about the journey.
North Korea closed its borders in January 2020 out of fears that a Covid-19 outbreak could seriously test its underequipped public health system and a domestic economy that was already struggling under international sanctions, analysts say.
The country has also deployed crack troops along its border with China with “shoot to kill” orders to prevent smugglers from bringing in the coronavirus, Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of the United States military in South Korea, said in September.
The North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said last summer that he would not accept international aid after devastating floods in his country for fear that outside help might bring in the virus, the state news media reported.
But Mr. Kim is apparently willing to import Covid-19 vaccines. According to a report this month by Covax, an international group that has negotiated for vaccine doses, North Korea is expected to receive nearly two million doses of the AstraZeneca shot by the middle of this year.
The North’s state news media has long insisted that the country has no confirmed Covid-19 cases, but outside experts are skeptical.