Seoul. The world should provide millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines to North Korea, where "draconian" anti-pandemic measures are worsening an already-severe food crisis, a UN human rights expert said Wednesday.
The impoverished nation has been behind a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade since early 2020 to protect itself from the pandemic, with the economy suffering and trade all but stopped.
The country's "draconian" anti-Covid measures, including border closures and further limits on domestic freedom of movement, have worsened the food crisis, Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights, said.
Crucial domestic market activity has been cut off, and international aid workers have been forced to depart, with humanitarian operations all but halted, he said, adding that vulnerable populations were at risk of starvation.
The international community should "agree on a strategy to provide the DPRK with 60 million doses of vaccination to cover at least two shots for the entire population," Quintana said at a press briefing in Seoul Wednesday.
Vaccinations are "the key to opening the DPRK's border... and bringing it out of isolation," he added, using the acronym for North Korea's official name.
North Korea has yet to confirm a single case of the novel coronavirus.
According to the World Health Organization, North Korea had by the end of 2020 conducted 13,259 Covid-19 tests, which all came back negative.
It had been due to receive more than 1.7 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the Covax programme last year, but rejected them due to concerns over side effects, Yonhap reported at the time.
It has also rejected offers of vaccines from allies Russia and China, local reports say.
In January, North Korea conducted a record seven weapons tests, including firing the most powerful missile since 2017, as it ignored US offers of talks.
Pyongyang is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.
Quintana again called for such restrictions to be eased to protect the country's most vulnerable in the face of a severe food shortage.