U.N. Command to resume Panmunjom tours late this month

SEOUL-- The U.S.-led U.N. Command (UNC) plans to resume a tour program to the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom later this month after a pandemic-driven monthslong hiatus, its officials said Thursday.

The UNC will restart the program to the Joint Security Area in Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas on Nov. 30 in line with South Korea's "living with COVID-19" scheme for a gradual return to normal life, they said.

The UNC coordinated the date for the tour resumption with Seoul's unification ministry.

The tour program will be held once a day at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and capped at 20 people per visit, according to the ministry.

Under a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visitors are required to be fully vaccinated or submit a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test taken within three days before their tour, it added.

The ministry plans to continue coordination with the UNC to increase the size of the tours based on the COVID-19 situation, an official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

"The purpose of the UNC commander's DMZ Education and Orientation Program is to increase public awareness of the security conditions on the Korean Peninsula and educate visitors on the terms of Armistice that underpin peace and stability," the command said in a press release.

Non-essential visits to the area have been mostly limited since Dec. 18. Tours temporarily resumed in April, but they were suspended again in July when South Korea applied the highest level of social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area.

Since this month, South Korea has implemented the "living with COVID-19 scheme," which entails eased distancing rules. The scheme came as the country's vaccination program accelerated. More than 78 percent of South Koreans had been fully vaccinated as of Wednesday.

"UNC will continue to monitor COVID-19 conditions within South Korea to ensure all necessary mitigation measures are in place to preserve the health and safety of all visitors to Panmunjom," the command said.

The UNC oversees activities in the DMZ. It is an enforcer of the armistice agreement that halted the 1950-53 Korean War.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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