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North Korea unresponsive to offers of COVID-19 help, Seoul says

North Korea has closed its borders since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
North Korea has closed its borders since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in China. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 23 (UPI) -- South Korea says North Korea has not reached out for outside help despite a recent statement from the Kim Jong Un regime regarding a letter from U.S. President Donald Trump.

A senior ranking South Korean foreign ministry official said it is "regrettable" North Korea has not asked for assistance, which is available from the South and the United States, South Korean news service Tongil News reported Monday.

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The lack of response could mean Seoul is not in a position to take initial action on North Korea, where the government has claimed there have been zero cases of COVID-19.

"At present there have been no special consultation between South Korea and the United States," the foreign ministry source said. "The most important thing is North Korea must respond positively such that negotiations can begin between the two Koreas, and between the United States and South Korea."

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South Korea has offered to help the North on the novel coronavirus. On March 1, during a national anniversary, President Moon Jae-in said he hoped for joint cooperation between the health sectors of the two Koreas.

Pyongyang could be in a precarious position. North Korea has claimed zero cases. Requesting help and virus testing kits could bring into question North Korea's official statements since the outbreak began in China in December, according to South Korean news service News 1.

South Korean analyst Cheong Seong-jang at the Sejong institute said the rising number of cases in the United States and South Korea may be posing challenges to extend assistance to countries like North Korea, amid a shortage of supplies in both countries. Cooperation between Washington and Seoul is key, Cheong said, according to News 1.

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South Korea was one of the first countries to experience a massive outbreak of COVID-19.

Seoul's National Medical Center said Monday at a press briefing the country must be prepared for a "long-term battle" against the coronavirus.

A vaccine is at least a year away, and nationwide stability will not be reached until 60 percent of the population develops immunity, said NMC's chief of emerging disease control Oh Myoung-don.

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