THE North Korea is allowing its citizens abroad to return to the country, which is further relaxing the strict restrictions it had adopted since 2020 to deal with the covid-19 pandemic, state media reported today.

According to the agency KCNANorth Korea’s Center for Epidemiological Emergency Prevention announced that “citizens who are abroad can return home.”

“Those returning will be placed under medical observation in quarantine centers for one week,” the agency said, adding that the decision was made as “the global pandemic situation improved.”

North Korea closed its borders in early 2020 to protect against the novel coronavirus pandemic, but recently there are growing signs that the country is moving towards opening up.

After three years when the routes of the national airline had been suspended Air Koryo international commercial flights resumed and one of its planes landed in Beijing on Tuesday.

Last week a delegation of North Korean athletes was allowed to leave the country to participate in a taekwondo competition in Kazakhstan. And in July Chinese and Russian officials attended a military parade in Pyongyang. They were the first foreign officials to visit North Korea in years.

“With this latest announcement, we expect a large-scale return of North Koreans,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute.

Despite signs of an easing of measures, some analysts believe that North Korea is not yet fully ready to open its borders.

“North Koreans have not been vaccinated,” noted Cho Hanbam, a researcher at the Korea Institute for the National Association.

He added that it was possible that Pyongyang was spooked by the pressure placed on the Chinese health system after Beijing’s surprise decision to lift covid containment measures in December.

North Korea’s health system is on the brink of collapse as it is considered one of the worst in the world, with no covid vaccines, no antiviral drugs and no mass testing capability.

According to Cho, if the country were to fully open up, the situation could be much worse than what China faced.