DPRK bars tourists over Ebola scare

Updated: 2014-10-27 00:34

By Gao bo in Beijing and Liu Ce in Shenyang(China Daily)

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Travel agencies in Dandong, Liaoning province, cancelled tours to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea after Pyongyang reportedly closed its borders for tourists on Friday to prevent Ebola from entering the country.

"We received information on Thursday afternoon that foreign tourists cannot enter the DPRK starting Friday," said Sabrina Wang, who runs a travel agency named Explore North Korea.

The Dandong company had to cancel all tour groups scheduled before the end of December, Wang said. "Our customers are mainly from Western countries. We mailed the 30-odd tourists from Italy, the US and Canada to inform them about the situation."

Wang Jun, a manager in charge of DPRK tours for the China International Travel Service Dandong branch, said Pyongyang often seals its borders for various reasons.

"This could come during their festivals or other occasions. We are used to that," Wang Jun said.

He said his agency will refund tourists who have signed contracts but cannot travel to the DPRK due to the ban.

DPRK media said on Thursday that the country was stepping up quarantine efforts to detect foreigners and tourists who might be carrying the virus, but they did not confirm the tourist ban, Reuters reported on Friday.

At least 4,877 people have died in the world's worst recorded outbreak of Ebola, the World Health Organization estimates, with more than 10,000 cases recorded by Thursday, though the true toll could be three times as high.

International travel to the DPRK is rare, and although there have been no reported cases of the Ebola virus in the country, in the past it has sealed its borders to foreign visitors over health concerns.

It was not immediately clear if the DPRK ban also covered non-tourist visitors of the diplomatic or business community with ties to Pyongyang, according to Reuters.

Dandong, which borders the DPRK, is the key hub for trade, investment and tourism between China and the DPRK.

About 60,000 tourists visit the DPRK via Dandong a year, according to the China National Tourism Administration.

A trip from Dandong to the DPRK costs 790 yuan to 6,500 yuan ($130 to $1,060).

DPRK tours had entered the slow season, with about 70 tourists going on one-day trips to the DPRK every day, compared with 1,000 in the peak season from May to early October, Wang Jun said.

Contact the writers at gaobo@chinadaily.com.cn and liuce@chinadaily.com.cn