North Korea has lifted its travel restrictions into the country, which were implemented to keep the Ebola virus out. The ban implemented last October halted the approval of all non-essential visas, and those allowed in, including diplomats, had to undergo three weeks of quarantine before being allowed to step foot on North Korean soil.
"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, a tour company that takes tourists into North Korea, told Associated Press, adding that it was informed by the country’s national carrier.
The hermit kingdom faces no real threat from the Ebola virus as it has very little exchange with African countries most impacted by the epidemic, though North Korean media has suggested that Ebola was created by the U.S. military as a biological weapon. As the travel ban is lifted, travelers from Ebola-hit countries such as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone would still need to undergo the three-week quarantine, while tourists from other countries would be able to enter with routine medical checks, according to AP.
"The National Tourism Administration in Pyongyang contacted us this morning with news that there is some movement in the current travel ban and that we should expect confirmation later today with details of the country's plan for reopening the border," said Beijing-based North Korea travel specialist Koryo Tours in a statement Monday, according to Korean news agency Yonhap. Koryo Tours added that the North Korean borders were set to “reopen for tourism.”
Pyongyang announced last Monday that it would bar foreigners from participating in the annual Pyongyang marathon, one of its most popular tourist events, over Ebola concerns. The race, which takes place on April 12, usually drew a crowd wishing to catch a glimpse into the isolated nation. Nick Bonner, co-founder of Koryo Tours, said that 400 foreign runners had signed up with his agency for the race, according to AP. Some 200 foreigners took part in the marathon last year.
North Korea’s lifting of the travel restrictions comes too late as the hundreds of runners from abroad had already canceled their travel plans into the country. Uri Tours told the AP they were waiting to see what the lifting of the travel ban would mean for the marathon. North Korea had been trying to boost tourism over the past few years, opening its first luxury ski resort last year in hopes of attracting foreign currency into the country.