A South Korean citizen has crossed the heavily fortified border into North Korea in an apparent defection, South Korea’s military says.
The person was able to evade detection for several hours despite a search operation by South Korean troops.
Military chiefs in Seoul said they did not know if the person was still alive, but had sent a message to the North asking for them to be protected.
North Korea has implemented a shoot-on-sight policy during the pandemic.
The person was detected in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), which separates the two Koreas, at a point on the east coast at about 21:20 local time (12:20 GMT) on Saturday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
Defence officials in Seoul had pledged to overhaul the border defence system after similar breaches in the past.
In September 2020 North Korean troops shot and burned a South Korean fisheries official who went missing at sea. The incident sparked uproar. Pyongyang blamed the anti-virus rule and apologized.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un had earlier declared a national emergency and sealed off a town after a North Korean defector who Mr Kim said had Covid symptoms crossed into the North from the South.
North Korea’s pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions on movement within the country have also reduced the number of defections from the North to the South.
The border between North and South Korea is one of the most heavily fortified areas in the world. It is filled with landmines, surrounded by electric and barbed wire fencing and surveillance cameras and armed guards are supposed to be on alert 24 hours a day.