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

An aerial view shows residential buildings in Pyongyang, North Korea. (123rf)
An aerial view shows residential buildings in Pyongyang, North Korea. (123rf)
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, asked by Radio Free Asia on Wednesday for comment on the COVID-19 situation in the North, said the country was still underprepared to deal with the disease, noting its stance on the matter remains unchanged after three months. 

In February, the State Department said it supported the efforts of international health organizations to fight the virus spread in the isolated country, which has long been unable to feed its people.

At a World Health Assembly teleconference held Monday and Tuesday, the cash-strapped country requested the loosening of UN sanctions, saying in a statement made public on the website of the World Health Organization that the sanctions hampered international efforts to curb COVID-19.

But 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 level in 26 years. Pyongyang 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 from 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 (">