According to a UN spokesperson, the international organization in North Korea has been left without international employees, who are now operating remotely.
Despite pretending to be free of the coronavirus, North Korea has closed its borders as part of a comprehensive anti-pandemic response that included the expulsion of diplomats and foreign nationals.
The last two foreign UN staffers, both with the World Food Program, officially left Pyongyang earlier this week.
The United Nations office in New York, according to U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, is accessible and running, and continues to operate remotely for the benefit of the citizens of North Korea alongside local workers.
After more than a year in North Korea, U.N. foreign workers returned home to see their families, according to Dujarric, and are expected to return to Pyongyang as soon as the pandemic-related border closure for UN employees is lifted.
WFP operations will be conducted by local staff in Pyongyang and foreign staff operating remotely, according to Dujarric.
Several United Nations organisations, including the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation, and UNICEF, have offices in North Korea. However, it is unclear when their foreign workers will be able to return.
North Korea’s assertion of zero cases has been questioned by experts. If there is a major outbreak, North Korea, whose public health care system is in shambles, may face a humanitarian crisis.
North Korea could receive 1.9 million doses of coronavirus vaccines manufactured in India during the first half of the year, according to an international health organization founded to facilitate global access to coronavirus vaccines. North Korea has a population of about 26 million people.
“The United Nations is working with the government to promote a COVAX vaccination program in the hopes that it will encourage workers to return and extend our support,” Dujarric said.
Along with U.N. sanctions and crop-killing natural disasters last year, North Korea’s unstable economy has been struck by a pandemic border shutdown that has significantly decreased its external trade.
“The strict COVID prevention measures have had an effect on humanitarian operations in (North Korea), resulting in reduced operational capability, stock outs of vital humanitarian supplies, and delays in the delivery of humanitarian programs,” said Dujarric.