North Korea have pulled out of next month's qualifying tournament for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) confirmed on Sunday.
The country's intentions to leave will be referred by the AFC to governing body FIFA, with a decision on how their exit from the competition will affect the rest of the group set to be announced in due course.
North Korea, who had already withdrawn from this summer's rearranged Olympic Games in Tokyo because of Covid-19 concerns, sat in fourth place in the table after five rounds of matches.
They were level on eight points with Lebanon and unbeaten South Korea, who have a game in hand.
Turkmenistan currently top Group H with nine points, while Sri Lanka are the only side who have yet to score a goal or register a point so far.
The remaining group matches form part of the second round of Asia's preliminary tournament in June. Those games will be played in South Korea.
Overall qualification in Asia for next year's World Cup is scheduled to conclude in November 2021.
Concussion spotters will be introduced at next year's World Cup in Qatar to help make football's treatment of head injuries an "awful lot safer".
Spotters will be positioned in the stands at games and tasked with identifying possible brain injuries which may have been missed by medical staff on the touchline.
Team doctors will also be able to watch video replays at all FIFA tournaments to look for signs of concussion, according to the governing body's medical director Andrew Massey.
"Often in football matches you miss these, even if you're sitting on the front row," Massey said in an interview on FIFA's YouTube channel.
"All FIFA competitions will have video replays. All FIFA competitions will have concussion spotters in the stand who can go through all these things and relay information to the team benches if it is needed."