North Korea claims to be Covid-19 free

SEOUL (ANN): North Korea continues to insist it has no confirmed case of coronavirus infections, despite mounting skepticism while the global pandemic is spreading.

The reclusive nation has tested 709 people — 11 foreigners and 698 North Koreans — for Covid-19, with no positive cases, according to Reuters on Tuesday, citing North’s weekly updates submitted to the World Health Organization.

It said the country has the capacity to test the virus in its national reference laboratory in Pyongyang, with chemicals needed for testing from China. The WHO has also sent supplies of protective equipment.

As of now, there are 509 people in quarantine, two foreigners and 507 nationals, in North Korea. Since December 31,24,842 people have been released from quarantine, which includes 380 foreigners, according to the report.

The regime has taken some of the most draconian actions against the virus from early on, closing its borders in late January and halting business with neighboring China, it’s closest ally and the presumed origin of the novel pathogen.

Nearly all countries have reported coronavirus cases, with the global virus tally exceeding 1.4 million and more than 82,000 deaths. Health experts have cast doubts that North Korea is virus-free, and raised possibility that the regime could be covering up the outbreak.

Observers have warned that if Covid-19 spreads to North Korea, its weak public health system may not be able to cope, as it lacks proper medical supplies, personnel and infrastructure to deal with an outbreak.

Human rights organizations and officials have urged for rolling back sanctions on North Korea to ensure food and vital medical supplies to reach the population during the global pandemic, with international NGOs joining to provide aides to the country.

Seoul has recently approved a local nonprofit organization’s plan to provide hand sanitizers worth around 100 million won ($82,069) to North Korea to help its Covid-19 containment efforts. This marked the first time that the South Korean government has approved a civilian aid group to provide assistance to its Northern neighbor.

WHO is to spend $900,000 to support North Korea’s preventive efforts on COVID-19.

US President Donald Trump has also offered assistance to North Korea on the fight against COVID-19, but the North hasn’t responded yet. - (The Korea Herald/Asia News Network)

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