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International Red Cross workers evacuated from North Korea

Foreign aid workers and diplomats have left North Korea, the International Red Cross said this week. File Photo by Stephen Shaver
Foreign aid workers and diplomats have left North Korea, the International Red Cross said this week. File Photo by Stephen Shaver | License Photo

Dec. 4 (UPI) -- All aid workers with the International Red Cross and most foreign diplomats in Pyongyang have left North Korea amid tighter restrictions to combat COVID-19, according to the relief agency.

International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Najum Ul-Saqib Iqbal said all foreign Red Cross workers and staff members of other international aid organizations have left the North Korean capital as North Korea raised its coronavirus alert to the highest level, Voice of America's Korean service reported Friday.

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The employees "joined other international staff from other organizations and embassies who also actually left" North Korea, Iqbal said.

"I can confirm to you that our last international staff from [North Korea] left on Wednesday ... after finishing their assignments to go meet with their families," Iqbal said.

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The spokesman said the Red Cross office in Pyongyang remains operational without foreign workers. Clinics jointly run by the Red Cross and North Korea are open, but activities will be extremely limited, Iqbal said.

Graziella Piccoli, deputy head of the regional ICRC in Asia, told VOA some of the work that was being done in Pyongyang is to be handled at the Red Cross office in Beijing.

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The Red Cross departure comes after the closure of several embassies in Pyongyang. German, Swiss and French missions all withdrew personnel earlier this year, after North Korea sealed its borders in late January.

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Katharina Zellweger, director of KorAid Limited, a humanitarian organization in Hong Kong, said the fears about the spread of COVID-19 are preventing North Korea from receiving aid.

"The lack of funding, strict quarantine measures, inability to import goods, as well as the reduction of international staff are among the main problems the aid agencies face in order to respond to the pressing needs," Zellweger said in a videoconference hosted by the Center Strategic and International Studies in Washington this week.

North Korea state media did not mention the coronavirus Friday. KCNA reported Kim Man Yu Hospital in Pyongyang has developed medical devices for better patient treatment, but did not report new cases.

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