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North Korea halts foreign tours over Ebola fears

North Korea will close its borders to foreign tourists tomorrow due to Ebola fears, travel agencies said, as the number of people that have contracted the deadly virus nears 10,000 in West Africa.

Three travel agencies specialising in North Korean tours, two of them based in China, issued statements today informing clients that the country was closing itself to tourists until further notice because of the threat of the disease.

It was unclear whether the ban also applied to business and official travellers.

“We have just received news from our partners in Pyongyang that the country is not accepting any international tourists from tomorrow, effectively closing its borders due to the threat of the spread of the Ebola virus,” said Nick Bonner, founder of Beijing-based Koryo Tours.

“It is presently unknown how long this closure will be in effect for,” he added, citing “the very changeable nature of DPRK policy”.

Young Pioneer Tours, which is headquartered in Xian, said in a statement that Pyongyang was barring tourists “regardless of where they have recently visited”.

A third company, London-based Juche Travel Services, also confirmed that it had received news of the ban via its North Korean partners.

But three Chinese travel agencies in the border city of Yanbian said they had received no such notice.

The UN’s public health body said yesterday that 9,936 people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – the three countries at the epicentre of the world’s worst-ever Ebola epidemic – have contracted the disease. In total, 4,877 people have died so far.

Some countries have banned travellers and flights from Ebola-hit countries, and a number of airlines have boycotted the region.

But North Korea appears to be the first country to ban foreign tourists entirely.

The move is not unprecedented: in 2003 it suspended tours for three months due to fears over the spread of SARS, Koryo Tours said.

“During the SARS epidemic, there was a similar reaction from the North Koreans,” a Koryo spokesperson said. “They probably feel that it is a threat – or perceived threat – and have gone into shutdown mode, which is unfortunate for tourism.

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