KEY POINTS

  • North Korea's healthcare system is poorly equipped to tackle the coronavirus outbreak, with the Red Cross calling for sanction waivers to help the country prepare for a public health emergency
  • The U.S. government has said it strongly supports the work of international health organizations in North Korea which fight the spread of coronavirus
  • The North Korean government has denied cases of coronavirus in the country

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is seeking sanctions exemptions for its North Korea office so it can deal with the coronavirus outbreak even though the isolated Asian nation has said it has no cases.

The agency said the money would be used to buy protective gear and testing kits to better protect the country against an outbreak. North Korea has a poor public healthcare system and likely lacks the medical supplies to deal with the coronavirus epidemic. The U.S. has said it wants to help North Korea prevent the spread of the coronavirus and would facilitate the work of international organizations in the country. 

“We strongly support and encourage the work of U.S. and international aid and health organizations to counter and contain the spread of coronavirus in the DPRK,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement Thursday. The DPRK refers to North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

“The United States is ready and prepared to expeditiously facilitate the approval of assistance from these organizations,” it continued. 

North Korea borders China, where millions of people are on lockdown due to the virus. The coronavirus originated at an animal and seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan. 

So far, the impact of the coronavirus on North Korea has been unclear. South Korean media reported a senior North Korean official who returned from China was executed after visiting a public bath in violation of his quarantine. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said he would use “rule by military law” to punish anyone who leaves quarantine without permission. 

North Korea has routinely denied any coronavirus cases in the country, but experts have expressed skepticism. 

“There is no way that North Korea is not being impacted by the coronavirus. They are clearly lying as they don’t want to show any weakness or that there is any threat to the regime," Harry Kazianis, director of Korean studies at the Center for National Interest told Fox News this week. “Considering how there are many porous sections of the North Korea-China border — and how the Kim regime depends on illegal trade to survive — it is clear the virus has come to North Korea.”

The coronavirus has infected more than 67,000 people worldwide, with most cases in China. The global death toll of the outbreak stands at more than 1,520.