Report: North Korea among nations to apply for COVID-19 vaccine

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Jan. 4 (UPI) — North Korea was among a group of developing countries that requested shipments of COVID-19 vaccines, despite declaring itself free of the virus, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Sources “familiar with the matter” told the newspaper North Korea filed an application for vaccines with Gavi, the public-private global health partnership that works to improve immunization in low-income nations, according to the report.

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Gavi did not provide direct confirmation of the statement, but said an update will be made available early in the year. The vaccine alliance has said 86 of 92 developing nations have requested vaccines. North Korea also has requested information on obtaining vaccines from European countries, the report said.

North Korea raised its alert level for the novel coronavirus to the highest of three stages in December, despite official claims of “zero” cases. But the country also held a New Year’s celebration in Pyongyang that included fireworks on New Year’s Eve. North Koreans were seen in state television footage wearing masks but not practicing social distancing.

Kim Jong Un did not make a televised New Year’s speech this year, but issued a New Year’s Day card to citizens, vowing to “work hard to bring earlier the new era in which ideals and desires of our people will come true.”

Kim also thanked the country for supporting the Korean Workers’ Party during “difficult times,” according to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency.

In 2019, Kim pledged to deliver a “new strategic weapon” in a speech published on New Year’s Eve. In October the regime showcased new missiles and conventional weapons. Seoul has said Pyongyang is pushing forward with state goals that must be met before North Korea’s Eighth Party Congress.

North Korea has yet to confirm the date of the Party Congress, or whether it has already taken place. The United States could be monitoring the country ahead of the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.

No Callsign, a South Korea-based aviation tracker and South Korean military authorities said Monday a U.S. spy plane, the RC-135W or Rivet Joint, flew over the Seoul metropolitan area, local newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported.

The reconnaissance aircraft also flew over the peninsula last week, according to trackers.