The United Nations expressed concern Tuesday over the human rights implications of North Korea’s response to the country’s massive Covid outbreak.
Leader Kim Jong Un has ordered a nationwide closure to try to slow the spread of the disease among the country’s unvaccinated population, and deployed troops after what he called a failed response to the outbreak.
“The latest restrictions, which include strict isolation and further travel restrictions, will have severe consequences for those already struggling to meet their basic needs,” UN Office for Human Rights spokeswoman Liz Trossel told reporters.
“We urge the authorities to ensure that all measures taken to combat the pandemic are necessary, proportionate, non-discriminatory, limited in time and in strict compliance with international human rights law,” she said.
Authorities should assess “the impact of any measures on vulnerable populations, taking into account experience elsewhere in effectively combating a pandemic and mitigating any adverse effects.”
A total of 56 deaths and nearly 1.5 million cases of “fever” have been reported in North Korea since the country announced its first Covid case a week ago, according to the official Central News Agency of Korea (KCNA).
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The North Korean leader blamed health officials for not keeping pharmacies open and put himself at the center of the reaction, saying the outbreak was causing “big shocks”.
Trossel also reiterated a call by UN human rights chief Michel Bachelet to countries “ease sanctions to provide urgent humanitarian and Covid-related assistance” to the poor country.
Experts say North Korea has one of the world’s worst healthcare systems with poorly equipped hospitals, multiple intensive care units and no drugs for Covid treatment or mass testing capabilities.
“We urge the DPRK to urgently discuss with the UN the opening of humanitarian support channels, including medicines, vaccines, equipment and other rescue aid,” Trossel said.
“We also called on the authorities to facilitate the return to the DPRK of UN staff and other international personnel to assist in providing support, including to vulnerable groups and those living in rural and border areas.”