Red Cross sends 43,000 volunteers to North Korea to help with coronavirus, floods

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The Red Cross has sent more than 43,000 volunteers to North Korea, including to the locked-down city of Kaesong, to help fight the novel coronavirus and provide flood assistance, an official with the relief organization said on Monday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency last month and imposed a lockdown on Kaesong, near the inter-Korean border, after a man who defected to the South in 2017 returned to the city showing coronavirus symptoms.

Heavy rain and flooding in recent days have also sparked concern about crop damage and food supplies in the isolated country.

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The volunteers were helping North Koreans in all nine provinces to avoid the virus and protect themselves from floods and landslides, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) spokesman Antony Balmain said.

“Hundreds of homes have been damaged and large areas of rice fields have been submerged due to heavy rain and some flash flooding,” Balmain said.

In Kaesong, which was grappling with both the lockdown and floods, IFRC volunteers were providing 2,100 families most at risk with relief items including tarpaulins, kitchen sets, quilts, hygiene kits and water containers.

“Families are being supported with psychological first aid and awareness activities to maintain hygiene and stay healthy,” Balmain added.

Kim has also sent special aid packages to Kaesong, and state media reported on Monday that grain supplies from Pyongyang had arrived in another flood-ravaged county he visited last week.

North Korea has not confirmed any coronavirus cases but has enforced strict quarantine measures. South Korea has said there is no evidence the returning defector was infected.

The IFRC last month provided North Korea with kits designed to run up to 10,000 coronavirus tests, alongside infrared thermometers, surgical masks, gowns and protective gears.

In South Korea, at least 32 people have died after 49 days of monsoon rains, the country’s longest since 1987, caused flooding, landslides and evacuations.

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