SEOUL, Jan. 20 (Yonhap) -- The number of North Koreans defecting to South Korea dropped sharply last year apparently due to the North's border closure to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus, government data showed Wednesday.
According to the data provided by the unification ministry, a total of 229 North Koreans settled down in South Korea last year. The number was far fewer than the 1,047 tallied a year earlier and 1,137 registered in 2018.
During the first quarter, 135 North Koreans defected to the South. The figures in the second, third and fourth quarters dropped to 12, 48 and 34, respectively.
The plunge is attributable to the North's move to close its border with China since January last year.
North Korea claims to be coronavirus-free, but it has remained on high alert by closing its borders and restricting movement of people to stave off an outbreak of the highly contagious disease.
As of the end of last year, the total number of North Korea defectors living in South Korea stood at 33,752, according to the ministry.
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