MOSCOW, October 23 (RIA Novosti) - North Korea is to close its borders to foreign tourists from Friday because of fears about the Ebola virus, say travel agencies with links to the country.
Beijing-based Koryo Tours, wrote on its Facebook page: "We have just been informed by our partners in North Korea that tomorrow North Korea will stop accepting international tourists due to the threat of the Ebola virus.”
It is as yet unclear whether the ban extends to foreign diplomats and people traveling on business, or only applies to tourists. An official at the Beijing office of Air Koryo, the North Korean state airline, told The New York Times that no flights to the capital, Pyongyang, had been canceled.
The paper also reported another China-based tour agency, Young Pioneer Travel as saying: “Three days ago, they said that anybody who’s been to West Africa would have to provide a doctor’s certificate stating that they don’t have Ebola. And then today, they just said no foreign tourists at all.”
Earlier on Thursday, South Korean Agency Yonhap News carried a report that North Korea’s health authorities were increasing measures to prevent an outbreak of Ebola there, including tougher quarantine measures at ports, airports and border areas.
According to the WHO, up to the end of October 19 there have been a total of 9,936 cases of Ebola reported in five countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Spain and the US, and in two countries which have now been declared free of the virus, Nigeria and Senegal. A total of 4,877 deaths have been reported.
Many African countries have imposed entry restrictions on those coming from Ebola affected countries, and several countries including the US have placed those arriving from afflicted areas under preventative screening measures. North Korea is however the only country to put in place a blanket ban on tourists. In 2003 it also banned tourists for four months because of the SARS outbreak in Asia.
An estimated 5,000-6,000 tourists visit the country each year, and the North Korean government is keen to push tourism in an effort to boost revenues. In February this year the country opened a new high-tech ski resort in its eastern mountains, and in August the Korea International Travel Company, North Korea’s tourism bureau, announced the commencement of surf tours for tourists in three different coastal resorts.