Biden says there is no response from North Korea to US supply of COVID vaccines


SEOUL — President Joe Biden has said North Korea has failed to respond to a US offer of COVID vaccines, as the country battles its first recognized outbreak.

Nearly 2.5 million people have been stricken with “fever” in North Korea and it is under control nationwide, according to state media in the country.

It is believed to be particularly vulnerable as it has little testing or vaccine supply.

Biden announced the offer at a press conference in South Korea.

“We have offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but also to China, and we are ready to do so immediately,” Biden said during a joint appearance with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.

“We don’t have an answer,” he added.

North Korea’s isolated regime has previously turned down vaccine offers from COVAX, the global vaccine sharing system, and South Korea, as well as other offers.

Instead, he claimed to have managed to keep COVID out of the country by sealing its borders, although experts believe the virus has been present there for some time.

State media recommended remedies such as herbal tea, salt water gargles and taking painkillers like ibuprofen, while the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, accused officials of botching the distribution of national drug reserves.

China is also struggling to control a wave of infections with the highly transmissible variant of Omicron, with tens of millions of people in some form of lockdown.

At the press conference in the South Korean capital, Seoul, President Biden said he was open to meeting Kim under the right circumstances.

“It would depend on whether he was sincere and whether he was serious,” Biden said.

His predecessor, Donald Trump, held a historic summit with Kim in Singapore in 2018 and became the first US president to set foot in North Korea the following year.

But two years ago, Kim questioned whether it was necessary to continue to “hold hands” with the United States.

The US and South Korean presidents also agreed to deploy US weapons if necessary to deter North Korea and to increase military exercises – which had been scaled back in recent years in a bid to reduce tensions.

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