MOSCOW – North Korea sealed its borders more than a year ago because of the pandemic, grounding flights and closing its border with neighboring China and Russia.

This week some Russian diplomats found a way out.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday that eight employees and family members at the North Korean embassy had taken an unusual route – one that included a bus ride and a ride in a hand-pushed railcar – to reach and cross the border with Russia.

The group included the embassy’s third secretary, Vladislav Sorokin, and his 3-year-old daughter, Varya, announced the ministry on its official Facebook page. The photo showed three children sitting next to several large boxes and suitcases. Three adults pushed the railcar over the railroad tracks.

The ministry said the railcar would need to be specially built for the nearly mile-long journey that included a bridge over the Tumannaya River.

When the group arrived in Khasan, a Russian border post in the far east of the country, they were met by colleagues from the Foreign Ministry and taken to an airport in Vladivostok, the ministry said. In a separate statement, the ministry said that railcar travel was the only possible way for diplomats to cross the border.

On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov – himself a professional diplomat – said the trip had shown that the diplomatic service could be “very rough and difficult” and that it looked only “very pretty and elegant” from the outside.

North Korea closed its borders in January 2020 fearing that a Covid-19 outbreak could overwhelm its public health system and damage an economy already struggling under international sanctions.

The country has also deployed troops along its border with China to prevent smugglers from infiltrating the coronavirus, General Robert B. Abrams, commander of the U.S. military, said in September.

Northern leader Kim Jong-un turned down international aid after devastating floods last summer, citing similar fears about the spread of the virus, state news media reported.

But Mr Kim is apparently ready to import Covid-19 vaccines. North Korea is expected to receive nearly two million doses of AstraZeneca by the middle of this year, which equates to a population of about 25 million, according to a report from Covax, which sells vaccines internationally.

The north’s state news media has long insisted the country has no confirmed Covid-19 cases, but outside experts are skeptical.


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