Stranded North Korean workers and merchants who rely on cross-border trade see scant signs that the frontier with China will reopen soon, despite recent trips abroad by leader Kim Jong Un and the country's athletes.

The bustling northeastern Chinese city of Dandong has long offered a rare window into isolated North Korea and its trade with Beijing, its largest economic partner and benefactor.

But commerce ground to a halt in January 2020 when North Korea slammed its borders shut to insulate it from COVID-19 — marooning thousands of its citizens overseas.