UN prepared to make humanitarian exemptions for North Korea on coronavirus

An official from the Mangyongdae District emergency anti-epidemic headquarters disinfects a tramcar to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the Songsan Tram Station in Pyongyang on Feb 26, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The United Nations Security Council on Thursday (Feb 27) declared that it would adopt humanitarian exemptions to the heavy economic sanctions imposed on North Korea to help the impoverished country fight the coronavirus, Germany's ambassador to the UN said.

"The coronavirus issue was discussed and the committee immediately had given permission to export the equipment" used to fight the illness, said Christoph Heusgen, who heads the United Nations body that applies the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang in an effort to force it to give up its ballistic and nuclear programs.

Ill-equipped North Korea has weak medical infrastructure and has cut itself off from the outside world, closing its borders as analysts say prevention is its only option.

"The problem is that right now the North Koreans closed the borders," Heusgen said after a closed-door Council meeting about the reclusive state.

The members of the Security Council called on North Korea "to allow this equipment in. So the population can be protected," he said, without elaborating on the type of equipment.

Pyongyang has not reported a single case of the virus known as Covid-19 which has killed more than 2,760 people, mostly in neighbouring China, while adjacent South Korea has more than 1,700 cases.

Heusgen said the Security Council had no idea about the number of known or suspected cases of the new coronavirus in North Korea.

"This country is closed so the information coming out of the country is extremely limited," he said.

The North has reportedly postponed the new school term, and it has banned tourists, suspended international trains and flights and placed hundreds of foreigners in quarantine in an effort to prevent an outbreak.

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