In this photo released by Rodong Shinmun on Thursday, medical staffs are wearing mask at a hospital in Pyongyang. (Yonhap)
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has requested the UN exempt sanctions on Pyongyang to help prevent a coronavirus outbreak, a US radio station reported Friday.
The world’s largest humanitarian organization made the request Thursday, quoting the IFRC’s permanent observer to the UN, Richard Blewitt, Radio Free Asia reported. The UN’s decision will be announced by Wednesday at the latest, he added.
The sanction waiver was requested as North Korea’s Red Cross and Health Ministry need items such as protective suits, goggles, test kits and thermometers to prepare for a possible outbreak in the isolated country.
The IFRC, via its branch in North Korea, had earlier mobilized 500 volunteers in four provinces close to the Chinese border as part of efforts to ward off COVID-19, such as assisting doctors and health officials in the area and activities promoting personal hygiene.
Blewitt said he had not heard whether there was any confirmed cases in North Korea.
Pyongyang has not yet to report any cases of the virus, which has killed more than 2,000 people in neighboring China. However, state media have hinted a number of people have been quarantined after showing symptoms.
Experts have warned that if COVID-19 spreads to North Korea, its health system may not be able to cope, as it lacks proper medical supplies, personnel and infrastructure to deal with an outbreak.
Regarding the report, Seoul’s Unification Ministry reiterated that it would closely watch the situation in North Korea.
Asked if Seoul was considering providing aid and relief items if sanctions are waivered, Cho Hey-sil, the ministry’s deputy spokesperson, said it is closely monitoring the situation and sharing information with international and civic organizations for possible inter-Korean cooperation on quarantine efforts.
The ministry said earlier it would consider international agencies’ request for assistance to help fight COVID-19 in North Korea if official requests are made. Cho added Seoul has not received such requests as of Friday.
A wide range of sanctions on trade, investment and travel related to North Korea were imposed by the UN Security Council over the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
Humanitarian activities are not prohibited under international sanctions, but the provision of related materials requires a sanctions waiver from the UNSC’s sanctions committee.
In the past, the UN has granted a sanctions waiver at the request of the IFRC and other relief organizations for medical equipment and aid supplies.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)