North Korea has banned foreign runners from participating in an international marathon scheduled to be held in the capital in April, citing fears about the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, agencies specializing in North Korea tours said on Monday. North Korea is thousands of miles from the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and has reported no cases of the virus, which has killed more than 9,000 people.
North Korea has banned all non-Korean tourists from visiting the country since October because of the virus’ outbreak.
Last year was the first time the marathon allowed foreigners to participate in its 27-year history, and in August, officials originally announced that the same would be true for the 2015 race.
Officially called the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon, the race commemorates the birth of Kim Il Sung, the nation’s founder and grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong Un. The course takes runners through the country’s capital, Pyongyang.
Around 225 foreign runners participated in the 2014 race, and about 500 were expected to attend this year.
The news comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un orders increased combat readiness in his country, describing tensions with its neighbours as graver than ever before.
He is under UN pressure over the country’s deteriorating human rights record and faces new US sanctions over the hacking of Sony Pictures in December. Meanwhile, the US is due to begin military exercises with South Korea.
The marathon is in its 27th year and is part of a series of sporting competitions, arts festivals and cultural events marking the birthday of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung, on 15 April.
The annual race, set for April 12, has given tourists a rare perspective in the isolated country, allowing them to run through the capital city’s streets. But on Monday, travel agencies who operate in North Korea confirmed that Ebola fears will prevent foreign participation this year.