No sign Korean leader has been vaccinated

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – There is no indication that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been vaccinated against the coronavirus and his country has not received any foreign vaccines, the South spy agency said on Thursday. Korean.

The National Intelligence Service told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that it had not detected any information that North Korea had acquired vaccines, according to Ha Tae-keung, one of the lawmakers who attended. at the session. He quoted the NIS as saying there was no sign Kim had been vaccinated.

COVAX, the UN-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines around the world, said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million doses in the first half of the year. But the shipment was not made and there have been no reports that North Korea attempted to obtain vaccines elsewhere for its 26 million people.

The NIS has a mixed record when it comes to reporting developments in North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive countries. Some nongovernmental experts have speculated that Kim and his senior assistants may have received vaccines imported through unofficial channels.

Another lawmaker, Kim Byung-kee, quoted the NIS as saying that the North Korean government was trying to dispel any expectation from ordinary citizens that they would receive vaccines from abroad and instead urged them to step up their anti-virus vigilance.

He said North Korea was building guard posts and concrete structures along its border with China to prevent illegal border crossings as part of its anti-virus measures. He said lawmakers have learned that North Korea does not even allow entry of Chinese diplomats, its main ally and aid benefactor.

Kim Jong Un recently berated senior officials for “crucial” failures in preventing coronaviruses which he said caused a “great crisis”. But his government continues to claim a perfect record in pushing the virus out of its territory, a claim widely questioned by outside experts.

The World Health Organization said last week that North Korea had reported to it that it had tested 31,794 people for the virus until June 24 and that all were negative.

Kim, in recent speeches, called on the nation to prepare for extended COVID-19 restrictions, saying the country is not ready to reopen its borders despite the heavy toll on its economy, which had already been devastated by years of mismanagement and led by the United States. sanctions on its nuclear program.

According to the NIS briefing, North Korea had planned to reopen its border with China in April, but abandoned the idea due to a shortage of disinfection equipment, Ha said.

UNICEF, which buys and delivers vaccines on behalf of COVAX, said it was still not clear when the vaccines could be delivered to North Korea, which has yet to complete its paperwork to receive drugs. COVAX supplies.

“WHO and UNICEF have worked with the (North Korean) Ministry of Public Health to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX center. However, (North Korea) has yet to receive vaccines through the COVAX center and there is no confirmation when the country will receive them, ”UNICEF said in an emailed statement.

Hong Min, a senior analyst at the Korea National Unification Institute in Seoul, said North Korea’s anti-virus campaign remains focused on quarantines and strict border checks, and vaccines appear to be a secondary priority.

Kim has repeatedly urged the North Korean public to unite under the leadership of his family to build a self-sustaining economy and withstand the hardships of the pandemic.

Kim paid tribute to the mausoleum where the balmy body of her grandfather, national founder Kim Il Sung, rests on Thursday to mark the 27th anniversary of his death. As in other recent events, he and other senior officials wore no masks.

During the visit, Ri Pyong Chol, one of Kim’s closest associates, considered a central figure in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, stood third, not first with Kim. This suggests that Ri was fired from the powerful governing body of the Politburo Presidium, which is made up of five men. North Korean state media recently said that some unidentified senior officials, including a member of the Presidium, had been sacked.

Some experts say Kim aimed to transfer public dissatisfaction with the economic hardship to those officials.

The NIS also told lawmakers that Kim does not appear to have any health issues despite her recent weight loss. He said he had not seen any reports that the hospitals in charge of Kim’s health had imported drugs and that Kim had recently chaired meetings for several hours and was walking normally.

Recent North Korean photos show Kim looks much slimmer, sparking speculation he may have health issues. The NIS said it believed Kim dieted to improve her health and lost 10 to 20 kilograms (22 to 44 pounds) between February and June.

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