By Byun Duk-kun
WASHINGTON, May 12 (Yonhap) -- The United States strongly supports providing COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea, a State Department spokesperson said Thursday, urging the impoverished country to work with the international community to vaccinate its people.
The remarks come shortly after North Korea said some 18,000 people with fever were identified on Thursday (Seoul time) alone. It also said six people died on the day, with one of them testing positive for the omicron variant of the new coronavirus.
"We note the media reports regarding the outbreak of COVID-19 in the DPRK," the department spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency in an email, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"We are concerned about how this might affect the North Korean people and continue to support the provision of vaccines to the DPRK," the department official added.
North Korea issued its first-ever report of a COVID-19 case on Wednesday. The country on Thursday said more than 350,000 people have been identified with a fever in a short span of time since late April.
Before the North reported such a high number of possible COVID-19 cases, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. had no immediate plans to provide COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea from its own supplies but that it would support the provision of vaccines by international organizations, such as COVAX.
The State Department spokesperson said the U.S. "strongly supports and encourages the efforts of U.S. and international aid and health organizations in seeking to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19 in the DPRK and to provide other forms of humanitarian assistance to vulnerable groups in the country."
The spokesperson urged Pyongyang to work with such organizations to quickly vaccinate its population.
"COVAX determines allocations for the Pfizer billion, which is the vast majority of our donations. Should COVAX allocate doses to the DPRK, we would be supportive as we would to any member of the AMC 92 and African Union," the spokesperson said.
The U.S. has pledged to donate more than 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines by 2023.
"To date, the DPRK has refused all vaccine donations from COVAX. While the U.S. does not currently have plans to share vaccines with the DPRK, we continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of critical humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans," the spokesperson added.
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