March 16 (UPI) -- A South Korean group that has called for the reopening of a jointly operated factory park in North Korea is urging a partial resumption of operations amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex Association said Monday activities should restart at the shuttered factories, citing the need to produce more surgical masks that can be used to prevent the spread of COVID-19, South Korean news service Newsis reported.
"The Kaesong Industrial Complex is a place where large quantities of supplies such as masks, protective clothing and detergents can be produced in a short period of time," the group said.
"If the Kaesong Industrial Complex was not closed, it would have been possible to minimize the damage caused by the national disaster brought on by COVID-19.
"The [South Korean] government should partly resume the Kaesong Industrial Complex for the purpose of mass producing masks and other anti-viral products," the group added, according to the report.
The association has donated collected funds, about $13,800, toward assistance for the city of Daegu, the epicenter of South Korea's biggest outbreak of COVID-19. They have also delivered 5,000 surgical masks, and 1,000 pieces of head-to-toe protective clothing, typically worn by healthcare workers.
The group said Seoul should petition the United Nations Security Council's sanctions committee to exempt Kaesong for the duration of the epidemic. South Korea has reported more than 8,200 cases; 75 people have died.
In 2016, South Korea suspended operations at Kaesong. Officials said at the time the decision was linked to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development.
South Korea has promoted the wearing of face masks at all times while in public, much like in other Asian countries wear mask wearing is the social norm.
Yonhap reported Monday Korean police have apprehended 45 people suspected of trying to engage in "fraudulent mask sales," as masks have become a highly sought-after item. Others have been buying masks under the names of family members. The country is limiting the number of masks people can buy amid the outbreak.