North Korea will not participate in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, citing coronavirus concerns. It's the first country to pull out of the games, the AP reports. The country's Sports Ministry said on Monday that its national Olympic Committee made the decision on March 25, wanting to "protect athletes from the “world public health crisis caused by COVID-19," but Japan's Olympic Committee said Tuesday that it has not yet been officially notified. Despite precautions like a ban on overseas spectators, there are still concerns that the Olympics could increase spread of the virus, especially as Japan sees cases rising and vaccines slow to roll out.
The move is a setback for diplomatic efforts between North and South Korea, which were already stagnant, and South Korea's Unification Ministry said it was sorry to hear of North Korea's decision, having hoped to improve inter-Korean relations during the games. A South Korean Foreign Ministry rep said the government supports Japan's decision to move forward with the games despite the pandemic, and said North Korea could still change its mind and take part in the games. The Olympic torch relay, which began last month, will likely be suspended next week when it reaches Osaka, which has seen a sharp increase in COVID infections recently, the Wall Street Journal reports. The games, delayed a year due to the pandemic, are slated to begin in July. (Read more 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games stories.)