Kim Jong-un rejects Covax vaccine offer as North Korea fights pandemic in âour styleâ
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered officials to wage a tougher epidemic prevention campaign in âour styleâ after he turned down some foreign Covid-19 vaccines offered via the UN-backed immunisation program.
During a Politburo meeting on Thursday, Kim said officials must âbear in mind that tightening epidemic prevention is the task of paramount importance which must not be loosened even a momentâ, the official Korean Central News Agency reported on Friday.
KCNA said Kim âcalled for fully providing material and technical means necessary for strengthening epidemic prevention, enhancing the professional qualifications and roles of the officials in the field of epidemic prevention and further rounding off our style epidemic prevention system.âUN atomic watchdog says North Korea appears to have restarted nuclear reactor Read more
Kim previously called for North Koreans to brace for prolonged Covid-19 restrictions, indicating the nationâs borders would stay closed despite worsening economic and food conditions. Since the start of the pandemic, North Korea has used tough quarantines and border closures to prevent outbreaks, though its claim to be entirely virus-free is widely doubted.
On Tuesday, Unicef, which procures and delivers vaccines on behalf of the Covax distribution program, said North Korea proposed its allotment of about 3m Sinovac shots be sent to severely affected countries instead. North Korea was also slated to receive AstraZeneca shots through Covax, but their delivery has been delayed.
According to Unicef, North Koreaâs health ministry still said it would continue to communicate with Covax over future vaccines.
Some experts believe North Korea may want other vaccines, while questioning the effectiveness of Sinovac and the rare blood clots seen in some recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The previously allocated 1.9m AstraZeneca doses would be enough to vaccinate 950,000 people â only about 7.3% of the Northâs 26 million people â meaning North Korea would still need much more quantities of vaccine to inoculate its population.âWe were punch bagsâ: North Korean prison beatings form of torture, says UN Read more
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Seoulâs Ewha Womans University, said North Korea was likely angling to receive more effective jabs from Covax and then strategically allocate them domestically.
âPyongyang appears to have issues with Covax involving legal responsibility and distribution reporting requirements. So it might procure vaccines from China to deliver to border regions and soldiers while allocating Covax shots to less sensitive populations,â Easley said.
âThe Kim regime likely wants the most safe and effective vaccine for the elite, but administering Pfizer would require upgraded cold-chain capability in Pyongyang and at least discreet discussions with the United States. The [Johnson & Johnson] option could also be useful to North Korea given that vaccineâs portability and one-shot regimen,â he said.
In a recent UN report on the Northâs human rights situation, the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, asked North Korea to âtake all necessary measures, including through international cooperation and assistance, to provide access to Covid-19 vaccines for all persons, without discriminationâ.
He also asked North Korea to form a plan to enable diplomats and aid workers to return to the North and revive humanitarian aid distribution systems as soon as possible in conjunction with its Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
After their meeting in Seoul last month, Sung Kim, the top US diplomat on North Korea affairs, and his South Korean counterpart, Noh Kyu-duk, told reporters they discussed humanitarian cooperation with North Korea in providing anti-virus resources, sanitation and safe water.