UPDATE at 1735 KST: This story has been updated to include a comment from the UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.
The North Korean mission in Geneva is set to have a meeting with the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday local time to discuss measures for the prevention of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a WHO official said Tuesday.
The Korean Committee for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also confirmed to NK News on Wednesday that North Korea has requested UNICEF’s support for medical supplies and protective equipment, while the WHO explained that supplies for protective equipment have likely left for the North.
“We have a one-on-one meeting with the Mission of DPRK here in Geneva tomorrow and our representatives,” said Michael Ryan, the Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, sharing the organization’s update on COVID-19 on Tuesday.
“With regard to DPRK, in fact, we have prioritized supplies for the DPRK… the supplies for protective equipment should have left for there last night or this morning,” he said, adding the departure of equipment needs further confirmation.
The news follows weeks of continued North Korean claims that the country is yet to see any of its citizens infected by the virus, with Pyongyang taking “emergency measures” to strengthen border quarantine and produce equipment such as protective face masks.
“We have no reason to believe that there are any specific issues ongoing in DPRK” regarding novel coronavirus infection, Ryan said.
“We will be providing them… with the lab reagents to be able to make the diagnosis, but at the moment there’s no signals or no indication that we are dealing with any COVID-19 there,” he said, appearing to confirm North Korea’s claim.
The WHO official, however, added that the DPRK is “anxious” about the global spread of the disease.
“But the government is very anxious as you can imagine, as all governments are, to make preparations and are seeking our technical and operational assistance to help them get ready,” he explained.
Meanwhile, a UNICEF report made public earlier this week said that Pyongyang asked the UN organization for support regarding supplies needed for the prevention of the virus.
“Additional support requests from governments have also been received from the DPRK” and other countries, the report said, “especially in relation to risk communication, medical supplies, distance learning and personal protective equipment.”
The UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office told NK News on Wednesday that the North’s “Ministry of Public Health… requested UNICEF’s support for procurement of PPE (personal protective equipment), and UNICEF is working with the WHO and other international organizations, and the government.”
The organization’s Korean Committee further clarified to NK News that it is still unconfirmed if the supplies Pyongyang asked for have left for North Korea.
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) does not yet appear to be involved in the international community’s aid efforts for virus prevention in North Korea.
Asked about South Korea’s plans to aid the North through the international community, Yoh Sankey, the MOU spokesperson, on Wednesday said that Seoul “will review” the situation if and when international organizations formally request the ministry for their cooperation.
North Korean state media continues to assert in domestic propaganda that the country’s quarantine and routine preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19 are “airtight.”
North Korea’s ruling party daily the Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday said that the country’s hospitals, engaging daily in routine disinfection of facilities, are equipped with “enough” protective equipment such as gloves and masks.
“Of course not one person in our country has been infected” by the virus, it claimed. “However, we should never let our guards down.”
Edited by James Fretwell