In North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s first order to the Ministry of Public Health this year, he called on the ministry to “put everything into the war against the virus,” a source in the country told Daily NK yesterday. 

Kim’s three-point order included a call to use “international support” to acquire a COVID-19 vaccine, directives related to the training the staff of Pyongyang General Hospital, and instructions aimed at resolving issues related to the hospital’s operations.

Specifically, the order instructed the public health ministry to cooperate with relevant organizations to receive international support to acquire a COVID-19 vaccine within the first quarter of the year.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday (local time) that North Korea had applied to “Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance” to receive COVID-19 vaccines.

In mid-December, North Korean authorities ordered the Ministry of Public Health and Ministry of Foreign Affairs to focus all their abilities on securing vaccines, with officials dispatched to China as part of the effort. Moreover, the Biological Industry Research Center of Kim Il Sung University is reportedly leading efforts to independently develop a vaccine.

“Securing a virus vaccine was the most important item in the order,” said the source. “The authorities stressed that the key is securing international cooperation as quickly as possible through close coordination [between the Ministry of Public Health] and [North Korea’s] external cooperation organizations.”

Moreover, the authorities ordered the doctors, nurses and other workers who will staff Pyongyang General Hospital to take part in lectures from the end of January to June. This suggests that, while the hospital has yet to be completed, the authorities intend to make full preparations to hit the ground running as soon as the hospital is finished. 

hospital task forces
Physicians in Pyongyang’s People’s Hospital No. 2 wearing masks. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

The Ministry of Public Health has also begun selecting personnel for the hospital. The ministry completed a first round of selections last year, but speculation has emerged that in order to supplement the staff, medical teams with plenty of clinical experience from not only Pyongyang, but also Hamhung, Chongjin, Sariwon, and other places nationwide will join the staff of the new hospital.

The order also called on the ministry to prepare a “working-level technology team” that can make Pyongyang General Hospital’s medical services “digitalized” and “intelligent,” and to complete acquisition of the drugs, supplies and equipment the hospital will need by the end of the year.

Given that the authorities are focusing their efforts on developing technology and securing supplies, the ministry is expected to negotiate and cooperate with China going forward.

The authorities have reportedly made it clear that there should be no cooperation with South Korea. “The Party’s position is that delusions about the enemy equal death, and the Party has also been stressing that the medical sector must also follow the single path of Juche. So no hands will be extended to South Choson [South Korea],” said the source, adding, “Inevitably, officials are turning toward China or Europe [for assistance].”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.