China has suspended freight train operations with North Korea amid the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the Chinese border city of Dandong, the Foreign Ministry said Friday.

Since earlier this week, many residential compounds in Dandong, which lies opposite the North Korean city of Sinuiji, have been locked down against a backdrop of the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant, while people living in such areas have been compelled to stay home.

Photo taken Dec. 18, 2020, shows the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge (L) that links China's Dandong (front) and North Korea's Sinuiju. (Kyodo)  

Although North Korea claims it has found no COVID-19 infection cases, Pyongyang had suspended land traffic with China since early 2020, with worries mounting that the virus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, could enter the reclusive nation.

The freight train operations between the two countries resumed in January this year, as a plunge in trade with China apparently dealt a heavy blow to North Korea's economy, making it more difficult for its citizens to receive adequate food and daily necessities.

The bilateral trade plummeted around 90 percent in 2021 from 2019 before the pandemic began.

North Korea is seen to be vulnerable to infectious diseases due largely to chronic shortages of food and medical equipment triggered by international economic sanctions designed to thwart its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

China is North Korea's closest and most influential ally in economic terms, accounting for more than 90 percent of its trade.