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North Korea to skip Tokyo Olympics due to COVID-19 concerns

North Korea is the first country to pull out of the 2021 Games

Photo by: Twitter/Saudi24N

Officials from North Korea have announced that the country will not be sending athletes to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, citing fears surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. North Korea is the first country to publicly announce such a decision in regards to the 2021 Games, which are set to run from July 23 to August 8.

According to the Associated Press, a website run by the North Korean ministry of sport published the decision to skip the Olympics. The country’s Olympic committee reportedly made the call on March 25, noting its priority is to protect North Korean athletes from the “world public health crisis caused by COVID-19.” The news may be public, but on Tuesday, the Japanese Olympic Committee said it had yet to hear official word regarding the decision from North Korea. 

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North Korea has spent much of the pandemic claiming to be COVID-free, although many believe this to be a lie, as the country is known to have a poor healthcare system. Regardless of the number of COVID-19 cases that the country has seen, the North Korean government has implemented many restrictions to prevent the virus from getting within its borders.

2020 Olympics
Design for the 2021 Olympic stadium in Tokyo. Photo: Japan Sports Council

Tourists have been banned, border crossings have been limited and the country has had strict quarantines for citizens who have exhibited COVID-19 symptoms. North Korean officials have said their restrictions are a “matter of national existence,” and the country’s withdrawal from the Tokyo Games is the latest pandemic-focused decision made by the government. 

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North Korea sent 31 athletes to the Rio Olympics in 2016. Four of those athletes raced the marathon, with one woman, Kim Hye-song, running to a 10th-place finish.