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N. Koreans still vulnerable to COVID-19: US State Department

North Koreans at Pyongyang station (Reuters-Yonhap)
North Koreans at Pyongyang station (Reuters-Yonhap)

North Koreans remain vulnerable to the novel coronavirus pandemic, despite Pyongyang’s repeated claims that it has no infections, the US State Department said Wednesday.

The department, contacted by Radio Free Asia on Wednesday about the COVID-19 situation in the North, said the country was still “vulnerable” and asked the radio station to refer to its earlier statement on the matter.

“We strongly support and encourage the work of US and international aid and health organizations to counter and contain the spread of coronavirus in the DPRK,” the State Department said in February, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

At a World Health Assembly teleconference Monday and Tuesday, the North requested the loosening of UN sanctions, saying in a statement made public on the website of the World Health Organization that the sanctions hampered intergovernmental cooperation to curb COVID-19.

Bruce Klingner, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation think tank, described Pyongyang’s statement as disingenuous. Sanctions against North Korea should be kept in place until it dismantles its nuclear arsenal, he told the radio station.

Meanwhile, the US Agriculture Department forecasts that North Korea’s rice output this year will hit its lowest point in 26 years. The communist country is expected to reap an estimated 1.36 million tons this year, as compared with about 1.5 million tons in 1994.

North Korea would have to import about 220,000 tons of rice this year to ride out the impact of the lower output, according to a recent report from the department’s Economic Research Service.

“Sanctions and the ongoing pandemic slashed rice production in Pyongyang,” said Kim Kwan-ho, a senior researcher at the Korea Rural Community Corporation.

By Choi Si-young (