In the months before acknowledging its first official outbreak of COVID-19, North Korea suddenly imported millions of face masks, 1,000 ventilators and possibly vaccines from China, trade data released by Beijing showed.
Two weeks ago, state media revealed the outbreak, fueling concerns about lack of vaccines, medical supplies and food shortages.
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Chinese data shows that even before that announcement, the North had started to stock up.
North Korea is not known to have carried out any significant vaccination campaign against COVID-19. In February, however, China exported $311,126 worth of unidentified vaccines to its neighbor, according to data released this month.
China reported no other vaccine exports to North Korea for any other month this year, or all of last year.
From January to April, the last month for which data is available, North Korea purchased more than 10.6 million masks from China, without having purchased any in December 2021.
In those four months, China also exported nearly 95,000 thermometers, more than 33 times the total amount in 2021.
China exported 1,000 non-invasive ventilators to North Korea in April, worth $266,891, as well as laboratory supplies that could be used in COVID-19 test kits. Other medical imports included rubber gloves and protective clothing.
Overall, China’s exports to North Korea reached $98.1 million in April, the highest level since January 2020, when the figure was $186.8 million.
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