US government will ‘facilitate the approval of assistance from US and international aid organisations’.

US to relax North Korea sanctions to allow coronavirus aidThe US will allow aid organisations working in North Korea to sidestep sanctions in order to fight the Covid-19 coronavirus, a State Department spokesperson has said.

In a tweeted statement, spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the US ‘stands ready and is prepared to expeditiously facilitate the approval of assistance from US and international aid organisations to counter and contain the spread of #coronavirus in response to concerns about the vulnerability of the people of North Korea.’

She added that ‘we strongly support and encourage the work of US and international health organisations’.

US citizens have been banned from travelling to North Korea since the 2017 death of tourist Otto Warmbier, and under 2018’s Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (‘CAATSA’) the export of goods, services or technology to the country is prohibited and financial transactions are blocked.

The State Department announcement came after the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (‘IFRC’) called for a sanctions exemption that would allow it to transfer funds to its North Korea office.

The group said the funds were ‘essential as a life-saving intervention’ due to an urgent need for equipment such as face masks and testing kits, which would help it to prepare for a coronavirus outbreak.

In addition to the IFRC, groups such as the World Health Organisation have voiced concerns that an outbreak could decimate countries such as North Korea which are unprepared to contain the virus or treat large numbers of people.