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Some Foreign Diplomats Depart North Korea Amid Virus Scare

Passengers wearing masks as a precaution against a new coronavirus line up to check in for a flight to Vladivostok, Russia, at the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, Monday, March 9, 2020.

A group of foreign diplomats has departed Pyongyang, with some temporarily closing their missions in the North Korean capital amid a coronavirus scare.

About 80 foreigners - including diplomats from Russia, Germany, France, and Switzerland - arrived Monday in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok, according to a Facebook post by the the Russian embassy in North Korea.

Colin Crooks, the British ambassador to North Korea, tweeted: “Sad to say farewell this morning to colleagues from German Embassy and French Office (in North Korea), which are closing temporarily.”

The British embassy will remain open, he said.

North Korea has taken severe steps to prevent a coronavirus outbreak, including placing thousands under quarantine, suspending foreign tourism, and attempting to seal its border with China.

Until last week, North Korea had also confined foreign diplomats to their quarters for over a month -- conditions the Russian ambassador to North Korea had described as “morally crushing.”

Reports suggested foreign embassies had been attempting to arrange an evacuation flight for diplomats, their families, and other international workers.

The Russian embassy Facebook post said the Monday flight was operated by Air Koryo, North Korea's state-run airline. It is not clear how many embassies sent diplomats home or when they will return.

North Korea last week released some foreigners from the quarantine - a move that relieved diplomats and others in Pyongyang.

"I have never been happier standing on Kim Il Sung Square,” tweeted Joachim Bergstrom, the Swedish ambassador to North Korea, who posted a selfie from central Pyongyang.

North Korea has reported no coronavirus infections, but Kim Jong Un has warned of “serious consequences” if the virus reaches his country.

Experts say the highly infectious respiratory disease has likely already reached North Korea, given that it shares a long, porous border with China, where the outbreak began.

North Korea also shares a border with South Korea, which has also reported an explosion of cases in recent weeks. But the virus is much less likely to spread through that route, since the two Koreas are separated by a heavily fortified border.