North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered officials to wage a tougher epidemic prevention campaign in “our style” after he turned down some foreign COVID-19 vaccines offered via the United Nations-backed immunisation program.
During a Politburo meeting on Thursday, Mr Kim said officials must “bear in mind that tightening epidemic prevention is the task of paramount importance which must not be loosened even a moment”, the official Korean Central News Agency reported on Friday.
While stressing the need for material and technical means of virus prevention and increasing health workers’ qualifications, Mr Kim also called for “further rounding of our style epidemic prevention system,” KCNA said.
Mr Kim previously called for North Koreans to brace for prolonged restrictions, indicating the nation’s borders would stay closed despite worsening economic and food conditions.
Since the start of the pandemic, North Korea has used tough quarantines and border closures to prevent outbreaks, though its claim to be entirely virus-free is widely doubted.
On Tuesday, UNICEF, which procures and delivers vaccines on behalf of the COVAX distribution program, said North Korea proposed its allotment of about three million Sinovac shots be sent to severely affected countries instead.
North Korea was also slated to receive AstraZeneca shots through COVAX, but their delivery has been delayed.
According to UNICEF, North Korea’s health ministry still said it would continue to communicate with COVAX over future vaccines.
Some exports believe 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.
The previously allocated 1.9 million AstraZeneca doses would be enough to vaccinate 950,000 people – only about 7.3 per cent of the North’s 26 million people – meaning North Korea would still need much more quantities of vaccine to inoculate its population.