Kim Jong Un orders stricter Covid-19 steps after North Korea shuns vaccines
Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, North Korea has used tough quarantines and border closures to prevent outbreaks of the pandemic.
Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, has ordered officials to execute a tougher epidemic prevention campaign in “our style” after he turned down some foreign Covid-19 vaccines offered via the United Nations-backed immunisation programme. "Officials must bear in mind that tightening epidemic prevention is the task of paramount importance which must not be loosened even a moment,” Kim said during a politburo meeting on Thursday, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Friday.
While stressing the need for material and technical means of coronavirus prevention and increasing health workers' qualifications, Kim also called for “further rounding off our style epidemic prevention system,” KCNA said.
Kim has earlier called for North Koreans to brace for prolonged Covid-19 restrictions, indicating the country's borders would stay closed despite worsening economic and food conditions. Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, North Korea has used tough quarantines and border closures to prevent outbreaks of the pandemic.
On Tuesday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), which procures and delivers vaccines on behalf of the COVAX distribution program, said North Korea proposed its allotment of about 3 million Sinovac shots be sent to severely affected nations instead. According to Unicef, North Korea’s health ministry has said it would continue to communicate with COVAX over future vaccines.
Some experts believe that 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. Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University, said North Korea is likely to receive more effective jabs from COVAX and then strategically allocate them domestically. “Pyongyang 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,” Easley said.
“The 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 vaccine’s portability and one-shot regimen," he added.