North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered officials to carry out a tougher epidemic prevention campaign “our style” after rejecting some foreign Covid-19 vaccines offered through the United Nations-backed immunization program.
During a Politburo meeting on Thursday, Kim said officials should “keep in mind that tightening epidemic prevention is the paramount task that cannot be relaxed for a moment,” the Korean Central News Agency reported on Friday.
While Kim emphasized the need for physical and technical means to prevent viruses and raise the qualifications of health workers, she also called for “further rounding out our epidemic prevention system,” KCNA said.
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Kim previously urged North Koreans to prepare for extended Covid-19 restrictions, suggesting the country’s borders would remain closed despite the deterioration in economic and food conditions. Since the pandemic began, North Korea has used tough quarantines and border closings to prevent outbreaks, although its claim to be completely virus-free has been widely challenged.
On Tuesday, UNICEF, which sources and supplies vaccines on behalf of the COVAX distribution program, said North Korea had proposed sending about 3 million Sinovac syringes to hard-hit countries instead. North Korea should also receive AstraZeneca shots via COVAX but their delivery has been delayed.
The North Korean Ministry of Health still said it would continue to communicate with COVAX about future vaccines, according to UNICEF.
Some experts believe North Korea may want other vaccines while questioning the effectiveness of Sinovac and the rare blood clots in some recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The previously allocated 1.9 million AstraZeneca doses would be enough to vaccinate 950,000 people – only about 7.3 percent of North Korea’s 26 million – which means North Korea would need many more amounts of vaccine to vaccinate its population.
Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said North Korea will likely receive more effective stings from COVAX and then strategically distribute them domestically.
“Pyongyang appears to be having problems with COVAX regarding legal responsibility and reporting requirements for sales. So it could source vaccines from China for delivery to border regions and soldiers, while COVAX syringes are assigned to less sensitive populations, ”Easley said.
“The Kim regime probably wants the safest and most effective vaccine for the elite, but administering Pfizer would require improved cold chain capacity in Pyongyang and at least discreet discussions with the United States. The Johnson & Johnson option could also be useful for North Korea as this vaccine is portable and uses the one-shot regime, ”he said.
In a recently published UN report on the human rights situation in the north, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on North Korea “to take all necessary measures, including through international cooperation and assistance, to enable all people to have access to COVID-19 vaccines without discrimination. ”
He also called on North Korea to come up with a plan that would allow diplomats and aid workers to return to the north as soon as possible and revitalize humanitarian aid distribution systems in connection with the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine.
After their meeting in Seoul last month, Sung Kim, the senior US diplomat on North Korea affairs, and his South Korean counterpart Noh Kyu-duk told reporters they were talking about humanitarian cooperation with North Korea in the provision of antivirus resources, sanitation Facilities and clean water discussed.