North Korea bought COVID-19 kits long before the first case

Although North Korea admitted its first-ever case of COVID-19 only two weeks ago, it has reportedly been importing virus-related medical supplies from China for a long time.

What happened: According to an SCMP report, North Korea led by Kim Jong-Un has been importing a large amount of COVID-19-related medical supplies, including 10 million face masks and nearly 100,000 thermometers, since early this year.

North Korea had cut ties with the rest of the world in 2020 when COVID-19 spread rapidly, forcing many countries to close their borders. In January, however, it resumed cross-border freight train service with trade ally China.

According to the Chinese customs database, 10.68 million face masks worth $265,851 were exported to North Korea in the first four months of the year. In the first two months of 2022, China also exported 2,125 garments made of felt or non-woven fabric, mostly used for surgical or medical use as protective coverings.

Chinese exports of thermometers to North Korea amounted to 66,000 in January and 94,840 in the first four months of this year. That compares with 2,844 thermometers that were exported in 2021.

In March, North Korea also imported 1,140 kg of reagent test kits, with an additional 60 kg in April.

China also exported therapeutic ventilators worth a total of $2,769 to North Korea, along with 1,000 non-invasive ventilators.

Why it matters: North Korea, with a population of 26 million unvaccinated, admitted its first case of COVID-19 on May 12, with Kim later declaring a “serious emergency” and ordering nationwide lockdowns.

On May 27, the country said the situation with the coronavirus was “clearly stable”. According to state media, it registered 3.2 million cases of COVID-19 with a single death after a three-day hiatus.

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