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Seoul authorizes COVID-19 aid to North Korea

Seoul authorizes COVID-19 aid to North Korea
South Korea has approved coronavirus aid to the North, according to South Korean press reports. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

April 2 (UPI) -- South Korea has green-lighted assistance to the North for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus, according to multiple press reports.

Anti-viral supplies, including hand sanitizers, valued at about $81,000, were approved for North Korea, News 1 and MoneyToday reported Thursday. The supplies are not from the government, but a local NGO, according to reports.

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Seoul's unification ministry said Thursday the civic organization met the requirements for North Korean aid, and was given the go-ahead Tuesday. The ministry also said the supplies are from private funds.

The decision to approve aid to the North comes after international NGOs, including Doctors Without Borders, reportedly donated medical equipment to the country, using a checkpoint in Dandong, China.

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In March, the United Nations Children's Fund said $840,000 is needed to assist North Korea during the coronavirus pandemic. UNICEF said it donated safety glasses, masks, gloves and thermometers that could be used in North Korea to fight COVID-19. China, where the outbreak began, shares an 880-mile border with the North.

Seoul's approval of the disinfectant shipment could mean other organizations could soon be able to send supplies. According to News 1, one group in Gyeonggi Province is prepared to deliver close to $980,000 in aid.

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Cho Han-bum, senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, a government-run think tank, said there is a possibility aid could expand to the government level.

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North Korea has claimed its self-sufficient approach to combatting COVID-19 has yielded zero cases of the coronavirus. Pyongyang reportedly enforced month-long quarantines for foreigners and citizens returning from overseas.

North Korea could be easing the restrictions, however.

According to the Russian Embassy in Pyongyang, North Korea has issued a notice to all diplomats, saying foreigners are once again allowed to visit shops and restaurants.

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The message was posted to the Embassy's Facebook page, according to Yonhap.

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