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North Korea pulls out of Tokyo Olympics, citing coronavirus fears
North Korea’s Sports Ministry said on Tuesday that it will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics this year to protect its athletes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision was made at a meeting of North Korea’s Olympic Committee, including its Sports Minister Kim Il guk, on March 25 the ministry said on its website, called Joson Sports, the Guardian reported.

“The committee decided not to join the 32nd Olympics Games to protect athletes from the global health crisis caused by the coronavirus,” it said.

North Korea has one of the world’s strictest quarantine regimes, despite the government’s denial that any cases have been detected in the country.

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence”, North Korea has severely limited cross-border traffic, banned tourists, jetted out diplomats and quarantined tens of thousands of people who have shown symptoms.

South Korea‘s Unification Ministry on Tuesday expressed regret at the North’s decision, saying it had hoped the Tokyo Olympics would provide an opportunity to improve inter-Korean relations, which have declined amid a stalemate in wider nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

Japan’s Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said she was still confirming details and couldn’t immediately comment on the pullout decision.

North Korea sent 22 athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, along with government officials, performance artists, journalists and a 230-member cheering group.

The Olympics are hugely unpopular in Japan, with up to 80 percent of Japanese wanting the Games canceled or postponed again. The Games were originally scheduled to take place in 2020 but were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year, the government announced that it would ban overseas spectators.

With just over 100 days to go, Japanese health authorities are concerned that variants of the coronavirus are driving a nascent fourth wave.

The variants appear to be more infectious and may be resistant to vaccines, which are still not widely available in Japan. Osaka is the worst-affected city. Infections there hit fresh records last week, prompting the regional government to start targeted lockdown measures for one month from Monday.

A mutant COVID variant first discovered in Britain has taken hold in the Osaka region, spreading faster and filling up hospital beds with more serious cases than the original virus, according to Koji Wada, a government adviser on the pandemic.

“The fourth wave is going to be larger,” said Wada, a professor at Tokyo’s International University of Health and Welfare. “We need to start to discuss how we could utilize these targeted measures for the Tokyo area.”

Osaka city canceled Olympic Torch relay events there, but the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has insisted Japan will carry out the Games as scheduled. Suga said on Sunday that measures employed in the Osaka area could be expanded to Tokyo and elsewhere if needed.

 

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