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COVID-19 aid offer stands despite North Korea's latest provocation: minister

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Unification Minister Kwon Young-se responds to questions from lawmakers at the National Assembly in Seoul, May 20. Kwon said Wednesday that South Korea will continue to seek ways to help North Korea fight against COVID-19 despite its latest military provocation. Yonhap
Unification Minister Kwon Young-se responds to questions from lawmakers at the National Assembly in Seoul, May 20. Kwon said Wednesday that South Korea will continue to seek ways to help North Korea fight against COVID-19 despite its latest military provocation. Yonhap

By Jung Min-ho

Despite North Korea's latest military provocation, South Korea will continue to seek ways to support the North's fight against COVID-19, Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said Wednesday.

"The Yoon Suk-yeol administration has maintained the stance that it would continue to find ways to help improve the lives of North Korean people, while responding strongly to its provocation," Kwon said during a seminar for inter-Korean cooperation on the pandemic at the National Assembly in Seoul.

"That's why we offered help immediately after the reports about the COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea … It's regrettable that the North chose to provoke (South Korea) instead of responding favorably to the offer," he said.

Kwon urged the North to take "the right path," saying the Yoon government will stick to the principles of its policy on inter-Korean relations.

"If North Korea continues its provocations, it will face nothing but stronger South Korea-U.S. military deterrence and additional sanctions, a message that was clear at the recent summit between South Korea and the United States," he said. "I also would like to make it clear that our government is ready to talk with the North about any subjects without preconditions."

A sign depicting a scene of medical product distribution is displayed along an empty street amid growing fears over the spread of COVID-19 in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo, May 23. Reuters-Yonhap
A sign depicting a scene of medical product distribution is displayed along an empty street amid growing fears over the spread of COVID-19 in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo, May 23. Reuters-Yonhap

Meanwhile, North Korea reported more than 115,970 new suspected COVID-19 cases the same day, with the total accumulated number of such cases surpassing 3 million.

In a dubious claim, however, the Korean Central News Agency reported "no deaths" over the past 24 hours until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

The broadcaster said that the total number of "fever" cases has reached 3,064,880, with more than 2.7 million recovered, while at least 323,330 are being treated. The number of deaths stands at 68, it added.

Many experts, including former North Korean infectious disease doctor Choi Jung-hoon, have told The Korea Times that the numbers are highly suspicious. Based on the numbers, the North's suspected COVID-19 fatality rate is 0.0022, which is significantly lower than South Korea's 0.13 percent.


Jung Min-ho mj6c2@koreatimes.co.kr


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