South Korea’s unification minister steps down over rising tensions with North Korea

Minister Kim Yeon-chul used to oversee engagement with North Korea. (File/AFP)
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Updated 19 June 2020

South Korea’s unification minister steps down over rising tensions with North Korea

  • The minister made himself accountable for the worsening ties
  • South Korea’s president approval rate fell to 55%

SEOUL, South Korea: South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday accepted the resignation of the minister responsible for relations with North Korea, as tensions with Pyongyang rise over the activities of defectors in the South and stalled diplomacy.
South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees engagement with North Korea, offered on Wednesday to step down, making himself accountable for the worsening ties.
After seeing a boost in favorability over his government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, Moon’s approval rating fell to 55 percent, the lowest level in about three months, driven by worries over North Korea, according to a Gallup Korea poll released on Friday.
North Korea has snubbed Seoul’s calls for engagement as efforts to restart inter-Korean economic projects stalled due to international sanctions designed to rein in the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
Pyongyang has also taken issue over defectors in the South sending propaganda leaflets into North Korea.
Citing South Korea’s failure to stop the defectors, North Korea this week blew up the joint liaison office on its side of the border, declared an end to dialogue with South Korea and threatened military action.
Unification Ministry spokeswoman Cho Hye-sil told a briefing on Friday that an emigre planning to send hundreds of bottles stuffed with rice, medicine and medical face masks to North Korea by throwing them into the sea near the border on Sunday, had been asked to abandon its plan.
She warned that authorities would stop the group, and others like it, from carrying out such plans, and would seek to impose penalties for violations of a law governing inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation.
After a flurry of barbed statements earlier this week, North Korean officials did not issue direct criticism of South Korea for a second day in a row on Friday.
But state media kept up steady stream of reports on North Koreans “exploding with anger” at the South.


UK to host ‘human challenge’ trials for COVID-19 vaccines

Updated 15 min 47 sec ago

UK to host ‘human challenge’ trials for COVID-19 vaccines

  • So-called “challenge trials” are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London
  • About 2,000 participants had signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner

LONDON: Britain is planning to host clinical trials where volunteers are deliberately infected with the new coronavirus to test the effectiveness of vaccine candidates, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing people involved in the project.
So-called “challenge trials” are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London, the report said, adding that about 2,000 participants had signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner.
Britain said it was working with partners on the potential for human challenge trials without commenting on a specific plan.
“We are working with partners to understand how we might collaborate on the potential development of a COVID-19 vaccine through human challenge studies,” a government spokeswoman said.
“These discussions are part of our work to research ways of treating, limiting and hopefully preventing the virus so we can end the pandemic sooner.”
The FT reported that the studies will be government funded, although 1Day Sooner said it would also launch a petition for public funding of a biocontainment facility big enough to quarantine 100 to 200 participants.
Open Orphan, a pharmaceutical services company cited in the FT report, confirmed in a statement early on Thursday that it is in “advanced negotiation with the UK Government and other partners for a coronavirus challenge study in the UK.”
“There can be no certainty that these discussions will lead to a new contract,” it added.
Imperial College London, cited by the FT as the academic lead on the trials, did not confirm the report.
“Imperial continues to engage in a wide range of exploratory discussions relating to COVID-19 research, with a variety of partners,” a spokeswoman said, asked about the possibility of challenge trials.
Any trials conducted in the United Kingdom would have to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the health care regulator which looks into safety and protocol.
The MHRA did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment, but 1Day Sooner, which lobbies for challenge trials to accelerate vaccine development, welcomed the report.
“1Day Sooner congratulates the British government on their plans to conduct challenge trials to test vaccines,” it said in a statement, confirming it would petition the government to house the trial participants.
The industry has seen discussions in recent months about potentially having to inject healthy volunteers with the novel coronavirus if drugmakers struggled to find enough patients for final trials.
The FT report did not name the vaccines that would be assessed in the project. British drugmaker AstraZeneca, and French firm Sanofi both told Reuters that their vaccine candidates were not involved in the program.