Swiss development aid office in Pyongyang shuts due to Covid-19

Disinfectant at work in Pyongyang, North Korea. Keystone / Cha Song Ho

The office of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Pyongyang has been closed until further notice due to the Asian state’s stringent measures around containing Covid-19.

This content was published on March 9, 2020 - 13:42
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The SDC mission was closed on Monday along with those of France and Germany, and staff are being repatriated, the Reuters agency reported.

Confirming the closure of the office, foreign ministry spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told swissinfo.ch that the decision was due to North Korea’s recent closing of its borders in an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19.

This “considerably impacts” the work of the humanitarian office, he said, and so the decision was taken to repatriate the Swiss members of staff and their companions – four people in total.

North Korea has not yet confirmed any cases of coronavirus, but it has ordered foreigners from any country that has reported a case spend 30 days in quarantine.

The isolated state is sandwiched between China, where the virus emerged late last year and has infected more than 80,000 people, and South Korea, where the virus has spread rapidly over the past few weeks to infect nearly 7,500 people.

Switzerland does not have a full embassy in Pyongyang; diplomatic affairs are managed by the Beijing office. However, the SDC office in North Korea is involved in peace promotion and humanitarian assistance. Switzerland has also acted on several occasions as a mediator between North Korea and third states.

Eltschinger said that “as soon as the situation in North Korea returns to normal, the foreign ministry will resume its humanitarian work”.

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