Pandemic halts vaccinations of children in North Korea

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Pandemic halts vaccinations of children in North Korea

Vaccinations of children in North Korea have been interrupted due to prolonged closures of the country’s borders, said Unicef.  
 
The organization, which carries out immunizations of children in the North every year, noted in a situation report released Monday its routine vaccinations in the country for diseases like tuberculosis, measles and hepatitis B were “interrupted because of border closures and unavailability of flights” owing to the coronavirus pandemic.  
 
Unicef said in its annual report for 2018 that 338,000 children under the age of one in North Korea received full courses of 11 vaccine doses for tuberculosis, one of the country’s most chronic and serious health crises.  
 
Approximately 1.6 million children under five also received nutrition intervention through Unicef, the 2018 report said. According to various United Nations food agencies, around 10.4 million North Koreans were faced with chronic food insecurity last year.  
 
Experts believe the situation faced by the North is even more dire this year owing to the global economic crunch triggered by Covid-19.  
 
While Pyongyang has continued to claim it has no coronavirus infections, the border shutdown it enforced in January to prevent contamination is believed to have hit its economy hard.  
 
According to Seoul’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, prices for imported products in the country have skyrocketed, while trade with China — the North’s largest trading partner by an immense margin — has dropped by 91 percent in March.  
 
The regime’s state media has attempted to downplay such difficulties, saying in a recent editorial it had “plenty” of resources, the country’s propaganda machine also continues to underscore the need for economic self-reliance in the face of prolonged difficulties.
 
“Hostile forces are making a frantic effort to economically suffocate us,” read a Rodong Sinmun commentary from Tuesday. “Their machinations aimed at stalling our march toward a socialism powerhouse by deepening economic difficulties and internal confusions will continue."
 
The claim suggests the regime is attempting to pin its ongoing hardships on an external enemy in order to rally public support.  
 
Any help the country does receive may be from its traditional allies in China and Russia. On Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping responded to a congratulatory message from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by offering Beijing’s assistance in the fight against Covid-19.  
 
Seoul, too, is hoping the pandemic presents an opportunity for the two Koreas to come a step closer to reconciliation. According to the Blue House on Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in remains committed to holding another summit with Kim within this year, which would be the fourth time the two leaders meet.
 
Pyongyang, however, has shown little interest in mixing words with its southern neighbor owing to the continued stalemate in its denuclearization negotiations with the United States, which has barred South Korea from acting independently in relation to the North.
 
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK   [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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