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S. Korea sends its first COVID-19 supplies to N. Korea

Posted May. 15, 2020 07:41,   

Updated May. 15, 2020 07:41


North Korea reopened the border with China that has been hitherto shut down to contain the spread of COVID-19 to receive the hand sanitizer supplies worth 100 million won from a South Korean civic group. This is the first time that any quarantine supplies from South Korea have entered the North since the outbreak of COVID-19, and pundits are watching if this will lead to a resumption of inter-Korean dialogues.

According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification on Thursday, hand sanitizers sent from a Seoul-based private organization entered North Korea last week via China. It was a month ago when the ministry authorized transfer of goods into North Korea. The South Korean government said that 20,000 pieces of anti-contamination suits worth 200 million won are also expected to arrive in the North through China.

The ministry explained that sanitizers and quarantine suits are not included in the UN Security Countil’s sanctions list against North Korea. Monitoring will be conducted to make sure the items are used as intended, while South Koreans are reportedly banned from entering the North to take part in the monitoring process.

It is noteworthy if the private-level cooperation to contain COVID-19 will translate into a state-level quarantine partnership between the two Koreas. In October 2018, a meeting was convened on the public health and medical support between the two neighbors as follow-up measure of the joint declaration in Pyongyang the same year, but it fell short of yielding meaningful results.

When Seoul tried to send 200,000 units of Tamiflu medicine and 50,000 testing kits in 2019, but it fell through. It was the sanction on North Korean transportations that impeded the effort. While the South Korean government proposed cooperation to fight African swine flu (ASF) with its Northern neighbor, the communist regime didn’t respond to the call, but this time it has shown some change in its stance. The North has claimed that there is no confirmed case of COVID-19 in the nation, but it is currently receiving quarantine supplies from international organizations including Médecins Sans Frontières.

In-Chan Hwang hic@donga.com