The globe is suffering a massive shortage of face masks and protective gears with the new coronavirus (COVID-19) spreading around the world quickly.
To meet the spiking local demands for such items, South Korea and North Korea could utilize their joint factory park in the North Korean border city of Gaeseong, a South Korean medical group said. The Association of Healthcare for Korean Unification (AHKU) floated the idea in a recent statement.
“South Korea is facing an extreme shortage of face masks. Despite the government’s countermeasures, the supply and demand went dramatically unbalanced. The supply of protective clothing is also insufficient,” the association said. “Mask manufacturers cannot simply expand production facilities and increase jobs, no matter what. The government’s request alone will not make them increase the supply.”
The North must also be in a grave situation, the association noted. Although Pyongyang sealed off the Sino-Korean board in January to prevent the entry of COVID-19, North Korean media report about 10,000 people in isolation, signaling that the North was not free from the virus outbreak, it said.
“COVID-19 is not just a problem for the two Koreas. As modern society has become hyper-connected, infections in one region could become a global problem instantly. The global demand for masks and protective gear will keep increasing,” it emphasized.
The medical group hoped that the Gaeseong Industrial Complex could be an opportunity to overcome the global public health crisis and contribute to fighting the infectious disease.
The association first called for the two Koreas to meet to control COVID-19 jointly.
If the government finds it challenging to take action, healthcare experts could meet first, it said. If an inter-Korean government meeting is not feasible, the two sides could start with a gathering of East Asia where international organizations such as the World Health Organization are invited, the organization added said.
To respond effectively to the global public health crisis caused by COVID-19, the group proposed putting aside soured relations and seeking mutual contributions and participation. It called for joint resources development and the use of the joint industrial park as a win-win model.
“Let’s make the Gaeseong Industrial Complex contribute to urgently responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and relieving inter-Korean tensions,” the association said. “We should transform the complex from an old scar of conflict to an outpost of a war against the virus for all humans beyond South and North Korea.”
By combining the South’s technology with the North’s labor, and adding global capital if necessary, Koreas could efficiently produce the most needed resources to fight the infectious disease and share them around the globe, it emphasized.
“In the Gaeseong Industrial Complex, there is already a face mask manufacturer capable of producing 1 million sheets of masks per month and over 50 sewing companies that can manufacture cotton masks and protective clothing,” the association said. “Above all, the complex has 35,000 skilled North Korean workers.”
An inter-Korean discussion could start from mask production and expand into productions of goggles, face protective gears, and protective clothing as packages for response measures of infectious disease, the association said.
“The production of supplies for the crisis response measures could be valid only until the time when the WHO announces the end of COVID-19,” it said. “After that, the two sides can evaluate the performance of the Gaeseong Industrial Complex model and decide whether to continue it, considering the effectiveness of alleviating inter-Korean tensions, promoting cooperation, and contributing to the joint response of additional infectious diseases.”
AHKU President Kim Sin-gon said the virus could quickly spread across the Korean Peninsula, a small land of only 220,000 square kilometers.
“Now is the time for two Koreas to establish a joint infectious disease management committee and sign a disaster joint response treaty and a healthcare treaty, just like East and West Germany did,” he added.
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