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North Korea welcomes back travellers as Ebola fears fade

A North Korean soldier near the border with the South
A North Korean soldier near the border with the South KIM JAE-HWAN / AFP

North Korea has re-opened its borders to tourists and lifted a 21-day quarantine measure that has been in place since October 2014 over fears of the deadly Ebola virus.

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The already isolated country had closed almost all its borders, halting all non-essential visas and requiring those few foreigners allowed in to undergo three weeks of quarantine.

The rules applied to diplomats, NGO workers and even senior North Korean officials returning from overseas trips.

Tour agencies specialising in trips to the so-called Hermit Kingdom said they were informed on Tuesday that the travel ban had been lifted and they could resume bookings for March.

US-based Uri Tours announced it had received a communication from the North's state carrier, Air Koryo, that North Korea's borders were "now open" for travel.

"According to Air Koryo, everything is back to normal!" the tour agency said in a statement.

China-based Young Pioneer Tours said the North was "once again open to tourism" and the agency would start taking bookings immediately.

In a despatch from Pyongyang, China's official Xinhua news agency said the quarantine measures had been lifted as of Tuesday, with the exception of visitors from West Africa.

"Travellers from other parts of the world are no longer subject to the quarantine. They only need to receive a medical examination in the Pyongyang Friendship Hospital," Xinhua said, citing a notification sent to all diplomats by the North's State Emergency Anti-Epidemic Committee.

Tourism is a crucial source of hard currency for the cash-strapped North, but it seemed willing to take a financial hit to avert any chance of an Ebola outbreak that its weak health infrastructure would be totally incapable of dealing with.

Just last week it announced a ban on foreigners taking part in its annual international Pyongyang marathon in April.

North Korea has a history of shutting itself off in the face of external health threats.

In 2003, it suspended foreign tours for three months due to fears over the spread of SARS.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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