A Beijing-based travel agency received a “panicked” phone call Thursday from its partners in North Korea, claiming “all borders will be completely sealed,” the South China Morning Post reports. The North Korean government’s apparent motive is to prevent Ebola from entering the country.
Currently, no cases of Ebola have been reported in North Korea, nor in Beijing, the main gateway to North Korea. The ban on tourism arose unexpectedly, without any official announcement: “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,” a travel operator told the New York Times. “And then today, they just said no foreign tourists at all.”
North Korean tourism has grown rapidly of late. The state continues to develop luxury resorts, including a $35 million ski resort outside Wonsan City, largely to stimulate an inflow of hard currency. Roughly 6,000 Western tourists visit the country per year, an eightfold increase over the past decade.
No details are available concerning the duration or exclusivity of the ban, which begins Friday. In response to the 2003 SARS epidemic, North Korea completely sealed its borders for a four-month period.