The World Health Organization is working to ship Covid-19 medical supplies to North Korea, a possible sign the North is relaxing one of the world’s toughest pandemic border closures to receive outside aid.
The WHO said in a weekly monitoring report that it had started shipping essential Covid-19 medical supplies through the Chinese port of Dalian for “strategic storage and further shipping” to North Korea. WHO officials did not immediately respond to requests for more details on Thursday, including what those supplies were and whether they had already reached North Korea.
Describing its anti-virus campaign was a matter of “national existence,” North Korea had severely restricted cross-border traffic and commerce over the past two years despite pressure on its already crippled economy.
In August, United Nations human rights investigators called on the northern government to clarify allegations that it ordered troops to shoot on sight any intruders crossing its borders in violation of its closure in pandemic case.
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While North Korea has yet to report a single case of Covid-19, outside experts largely doubt that he escaped the disease that had affected almost every other place in the world.
The North told the WHO it had tested 40,700 people for the coronavirus until September 23 and that all tests were negative. According to the WHO report, those tested in the past week included 94 people with flu-like symptoms or other symptoms and 573 health workers.
The latest WHO report came weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered authorities to carry out a tougher ‘our style’ anti-virus campaign after refusing certain foreign Covid-19 vaccines offered via a UN-supported immunization program.
Unicef, which buys and delivers vaccines on behalf of the COVAX distribution program, said last month that North Korea had proposed that its allocation of around 3 million Sinovac vaccines be sent to severely affected countries. Unicef said North Korea’s health ministry said it will continue to communicate with COVAX on future vaccines.
Some analysts say the North is looking to receive more effective jabs amid questions about the effectiveness of the Sinovac vaccine and may also have issues with COVAX involving legal liability and reporting requirements.