(ATTN: ADDS details of North Korean foreign ministry's statement in paras 11-12)
SEOUL, May 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to offer working-level talks with North Korea, a senior official said Sunday, in an apparent move to help the North contain the spread of COVID-19.
Last week, North Korea declared the implementation of the "maximum emergency" virus control system as it acknowledged an outbreak of COVID-19 for the first time since the pandemic began. North Korea had claimed for over two years that it was coronavirus-free.
"The government is actively reviewing to officially propose to North Korea holding a working-level meeting at the beginning of the week," a senior South Korean official told Yonhap News Agency on condition of anonymity, citing policy.
Later in the day, South Korea's Unification Ministry said it will make the offer to North Korea as soon as possible to provide "practical help" in coronavirus response.
North Korea on Sunday reported 15 additional COVID-19 deaths, raising the death toll to 42 since late April.
North Korea mobilized more than 1.34 million people in combating the virus that has infected 820,620 North Koreans. Among them, 496,030 have been cured and 324,550 are being treated, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
The offer, if accepted by North Korea, would mark the first talks between the two Koreas after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office last week, promising an audacious plan to vastly strengthen North Korea's economy in return for the North's steps toward denuclearization.
On Friday, Yoon offered to send COVID-19 vaccines and other medical supplies to North Korea.
Still, it remains unclear if North Korea will come forward for talks with South Korea amid tensions on the Korean Peninsula over the North's series of missile tests in recent months.
North Korea's foreign ministry said Sunday the country "will continue to strengthen" its military capabilities while blaming the United States for the worsening of the political situation on the Korean Peninsula.
The North's latest criticism came in response to last week's statement by the G7 Non-Proliferation Directors Group condemning Pyongyang's continued testing of ballistic missiles.
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