SEOUL, Nov. 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will push actively ahead with cooperation with North Korea once coronavirus vaccines and cures are developed, Unification Minister Lee In-young said Friday, after coming under fire for calling for sharing coronavirus vaccines with the North.
"When vaccines and treatment for COVID-19 are developed and distributed in the near future, a new environment will be created in the Korean Peninsula in which people and goods can come and go," Lee said during a meeting with medical experts Friday.
The remark came two days after Lee said the South should share coronavirus vaccines with the North even if the country runs short of its own supplies. The remark prompted criticism from conservatives as it came at a time when the country has yet to secure vaccines.
The North's main Rodong Simnun newspaper also said a day later it won't accept any outside aid.
On Friday, Lee also stressed the need to build a response system as agreed by the two Koreas in November 2018 to cooperate in preventing the spread of infectious diseases and exchange information.
"We need to advance into reciprocal cooperation that includes the diagnosis, treatment, disease prevention and research and development of vaccines," Lee added.
He urged the opening of an inter-Korean infectious disease response center in one of the border towns to turn the Korean Peninsula into a safe place "at a time when the pandemic has become the new normal."
Lee also called on nongovernmental organizations to actively seek ways for inter-Korean cooperation.
"We will provide support for nongovernmental organizations that cooperate with North Korean counterparts that we can trust," he said.
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