Numbers slumped to simply 229 final yr, far under the 1,047 in 2019 as Pyongyang shut down its border within the face of COVID-19.

The variety of North Koreans defecting to South Korea plummeted final yr after Pyongyang closed its border within the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Seoul’s unification ministry mentioned on Wednesday.

The determine has been on a gentle decline for a while however slumped to simply 229 final yr, the ministry mentioned, far under the 2019 tally of 1,047.

The overwhelming majority of defectors first journey to neighbouring China, typically staying there for years earlier than making their means on to the South through third international locations, and solely a handful threat crossing the heavily-fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.

The North has not confirmed a single case of COVID-19 – though specialists have lengthy mentioned it’s unlikely to have escaped the pandemic – and in September the commander of US forces within the South mentioned Pyongyang had issued shoot-to-kill orders in its border areas.

It imposed a strict border closure final January to attempt to defend itself from the virus that first emerged in China, its most important ally.

“It seems to be just like the variety of [North Korean] individuals getting into the South decreased as a result of results of North Korean-Chinese language border management and restrictions of motion from third international locations on account of COVID-19,” Seoul’s unification ministry mentioned in a press release.

In one among final yr’s most high-profile instances, an unarmed man was picked up throughout the civilian management line close to the city of Goseong in November after reducing his means by way of the border fences. He later informed South Korean authorities he wished to defect.

Inter-Korean relations have been in a deep freeze following the collapse of a summit in Hanoi between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump in 2019 over what the nuclear-armed North can be prepared to surrender in trade for a loosening of sanctions.