Asia

North Korea lifts four-month travel ban to prevent Ebola

This photo taken on August 31, 2011 shows Chinese tourists admiring the view from a bridge along a path of a scenic spot at the Mount Kumgang international tourist zone in North Korea. Image copyright AFP
Image caption North Korea has established special tourism zones around the country

North Korea will once again allow tourists into the country after imposing severe restrictions to prevent the spread of Ebola, travel agencies say.

The country closed its borders to all non-essential travel in October.

North Korea is thousands of miles from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that has killed more than 9,000 people. No Ebola cases have been reported in Asia.

Tourism is a vital source of currency for the cash-strapped country.

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.

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.

Pyongyang's anti-Ebola measures highlight concerns that an outbreak could pose a direct threat to the regime's survival, South Korea's spy agency reportedly told lawmakers last month.

Much of North Korea's population lives in extreme poverty and the healthcare system would be ill-equipped to handle an Ebola epidemic.

Pyongyang has aggressively promoted tourism in the last few years in an effort to draw in much needed foreign currency. The country is facing international sanctions and widespread poverty.

It has opened a luxury ski resort and established special tourism zones around the country in a bid to attract tourists mainly from China.

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