North Korea has lifted severe restrictions on foreign travel it imposed last year to keep the Ebola virus from crossing its borders, although North Korea is thousands of miles from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The already isolated country virtually closed its borders to foreigners last October, halting all non-essential visas and requiring those few foreigners allowed in to undergo three weeks of quarantine. The rules applied to diplomats, NGO workers and even senior North Korean officials returning from overseas trips.
One tour company that takes tourists into North Korea, Uri Tours, said on its website Tuesday that it had been told by the country’s national airline that the ban had been lifted.
Uri Tours, which takes tourists into North Korea, said the national airline had said the ban was now lifted.
“We have been informed by Air Koryo that North Korea’s borders are now open for travel and the four-month long Ebola travel ban was lifted as of Monday,” Uri Tours said on its website according to local media.
The manager of China-based Young Pioneer Tours, Troy Collings, told Reuters: “We’ve had it confirmed officially that the border is now open”.
However, travellers from Ebola-affected countries would still be quarantined, the Associated Press reported, citing officials in Pyongyang.
Those that were allowed in were placed under quarantine for 21 days. These restrictions applied to diplomats, NGO workers and North Korean officials returning from overseas trips.
A statement from North Korea’s state emergency quarantine committee obtained by the Associated Press on Tuesday said tourists from Ebola-hit countries such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and their neighboring countries would still be placed in the three-week quarantine, while tourists from other countries would be able to enter with routine medical checks.
North Korea has a history of shutting itself off in the face of external health threats.
In 2003, it suspended foreign tours for three months due to fears over the spread of SARS.
Ebola, one of the deadliest pathogens known to man, is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting.
More than 9,500 people have died of the disease since the west African epidemic emerged in southern Guinea in December 2013.