North Korea has requested deliveries of Covid-19 vaccines from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Covax facility but has so far refused to allow international health workers to monitor distribution among the population, according to a Japanese press report.
Kyodo News reported on Wednesday from Beijing that multiple diplomatic sources confirmed the exchange between North Korea and WHO officials.
The United Nations agency wants to ensure that vaccinations are being properly administered in the isolated country, but North Korea is saying no, the report said.
Kyodo’s sources said Pyongyang “seems to be biding its time” waiting for Covax to relent and allow the vaccines to be distributed without monitors.
According to Covax, North Korea is to receive 1,704,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This would cover less than one million of the May 2021 population of nearly 26 million, as estimated by Worldometer.
The number of doses has been reduced from nearly two million due to the surge of infections in India.
North Korea is one of 92 low-income nations on Covax’s list of potential recipients, but Pyongyang reportedly has not submitted its plans for distribution, which is a WHO requirement, South Korean newspaper Kyunghyang Shinmun reported on Thursday.
WHO does not have direct access to the North Korean population but continues to report the data it receives from the regime.
The UN agency stated in its Southeast Asia Region Weekly Situation Report that North Korea reported “no cases” as of May 6.
Radio Free Asia’s Korean service recently reported power outages in the North could be posing vaccine storage problems as the AstraZeneca vaccine requires refrigeration.
Meanwhile, the AP is reporting that South Korean President Moon Jae-in is hoping his Friday White House meeting with President Joe Biden will lead to renewed diplomatic urgency on curbing North Korea’s nuclear programme. The White House, however, is signalling that it is taking a longer view on one of the most difficult foreign policy challenges Biden faces.
Ahead of Friday’s meeting, which is just the second in-person foreign leader session for Biden because of the coronavirus pandemic, White House officials said North Korea will be a central focus of talks. Coordination on vaccine distribution, climate change and regional security concerns spurred by China are also high on the president’s to-do list.