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Coronavirus: North Korean train makes first reported crossing into China since border lockdown

·5 min read

Chinese brokers said they expect the resumption of regular trade with North Korea as soon as Monday, after a North Korean train pulled into a Chinese border town on Sunday in the first such crossing since anti-coronavirus border lockdowns began in 2020.

"My business partner in North Korea told me on Friday that the land border will reopen to cargo freight on January 17," a Chinese commodities trader in the border town of Dandong told Reuters.

"By Saturday the whole import-export community here has heard about this and people have began snapping up carriages to move their cargo over," he said.

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North Korea has not officially reported any Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began in early 2020, and has imposed strict antivirus measures, including border closures and domestic travel curbs.

Another Chinese trader said she can arrange for cargo to be loaded onto a train in Dandong which is scheduled to cross over to North Korea on Monday.

On Sunday she posted three photos of freight carriages taken inside a railway station on social media, and said that the first batch of cargo for the resumption of rail link between Dandong and North Korea was being loaded.

Both traders refused to be named, citing the sensitivity of the matter.

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China has not officially announced the reopening of border. Previous reports of imminent border reopening citing traders and logistics had not materialised.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request on Sunday for confirmation of the border's reopening.

Citing multiple unnamed sources, South Korea's Yonhap news agency earlier on Sunday reported the arrival of what it said was a North Korean goods train in Dandong, saying it marked the formal reopening of North Korea's land border with China.

It was unclear whether the train was carrying any cargo into China, but was likely to return to North Korea on Monday with a load of "emergency materials", the sources told Yonhap, without elaborating.

Japan's Kyodo news agency also reported the train's arrival, citing an informed source.

While Chinese data show some limited trade has continued, most shipments appear to be using North Korean seaports, not trains across its land borders.

Officials in Seoul said late last year they were watching closely for a resumption in cross-border rail traffic as a signal that restrictions might be loosening.

After nearly two years of border closures, some humanitarian aid is trickling into North Korea, though shipments of key supplies including food remain blocked, according to United Nations organisations.

Several shipments of nutrition and medical aid have entered the country after up to three months of quarantine at Nampo seaport, but there had been no confirmation of major shipments being transported by train.

People wait to purchase rapid test kits at a pharmacy in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: EPA-EFE alt=People wait to purchase rapid test kits at a pharmacy in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: EPA-EFE>

Thailand reports first Omicron death

Thailand has reported its first death from the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus variant, a health official said on Sunday.

The death, a 86-year-old woman from the southern province of Songkhla, came after Thailand detected its first Omicron case last month that led to the reinstatement of its mandatory Covid-19 quarantine for foreign visitors.

"The woman is a bedridden, Alzheimer patient," health ministry spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati said.

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Such a death was expected as the country has so far reported over 10,000 Omicron cases, he said, adding that Thailand would not need further containment measures.

Thailand reported 8,077 new infections and nine deaths on Sunday, taking the tally to more than 2.3 million cases and nearly 22,000 deaths since the pandemic started in 2020.

About 66 per cent of an estimated 72 million living in the country have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccines, but about 14.9 per cent have received booster shots.

On January 11, the central bank said Southeast Asia's second-largest economy would take a 0.3 per cent hit from Omicron, although it should be managed by the first half of the year.

About 69 per cent of India's adult population has received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, the Narendra Modi government said on Sunday, as the country marked a year since the jabs started being rolled out.

The country of 1.3 billion people began what it termed the world's largest vaccination programme on January 16, 2020 with the aim of covering the entire adult population of about 900 million by the end of the year.

While that ambitious goal was missed, so far at least one dose has been delivered to 93 per cent of the population aged above 18, the government said.

"Our vaccination programme has added great strength to the fight against Covid-19. It has led to saving lives and thus protecting livelihoods," Prime Minister Modi said in a Twitter post.

"India's approach to fighting the pandemic will always remain science based ... Let us keep following all Covid-19 related protocols and overcome the pandemic."

India's election juggernaut rumbles on despite relentless Covid-19 third wave

India has had one of the biggest coronavirus caseloads at around 37 million, second only to the United States. At least 486,066 people have died, a large number of them during a virulent second wave in April-June powered by the Delta variant.

On Saturday, India saw 271,202 new cases of Covid-19, its highest number of daily cases in eight months, but the levels of hospitalisation still remain low, Health Ministry officials have said.

The new spike is being largely caused by the Omicron variant, but the Delta variant is also prevalent in India, experts say.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.