- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 5, 2021

North Korea, which continues to claim it has zero COVID-19 cases, is now requesting access to vaccines for the virus from an international charitable program funded by wealthy philanthropists and governments around the world.

Pyongyang has reportedly sent an application to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, seeking a supply of the vaccine from the global organization that leads the world in organizing the distribution of inoculations to lower-income countries.

Gavi, which has offices in various capitals, including Geneva and Washington, has declined to comment on the North Korean application that was first reported on this week by The Wall Street Journal citing a source familiar with the matter.

The alliance said last month that 86 out of 92 nations that it recognizes as low-income have sent applications requesting help acquiring COVID-19 vaccines. Gavi’s website indicates the alliance has previously helped North Korea secure vaccines for other diseases.

The alliance has global impact and receives funding from the world’s major governments, including the United States and China. Australia is the top donor country in Asia for the alliance, which has also received billions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many other charitable organizations.

A Wall Street Journal report Monday, meanwhile, claimed that North Korea has also reached out to several European embassies during recent weeks, inquiring how it might obtain COVID-19 vaccines.

The development follows months of speculation about the impact of the pandemic on North Korea’s isolated population that the CIA World Factbook estimates at roughly 26 million people.

In December, South Korea cast doubt on claims by the North Korean regime’s tightly controlled state media that there have been no COVID-19 cases recorded in the North.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at the time that it was “hard to believe” there has been no North Korean outbreak.

“All signs are that the regime is very intensely focused on controlling the disease that they say they don’t have,” Mrs. Kang said in public remarks.

Her comments came amid reports that tens of thousands of North Koreans were dying in secret quarantine camps run by Pyongyang. The Washington Times has not been able to verify the reports, including one by a South Korea-based news outlet that has claimed more than 50,000 people have died in “COVID-19 quarantine facilities” set by the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The web-based publication Daily NK — an outfit run mostly by North Korean defectors known to be highly critical of the Kim regime — claimed nearly 4,200 North Korean military personnel have been among those who’ve died in the alleged camps, many of which the publication claimed are run by the military.

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