North Korea bans foreign tourists as corona virus spreads | Sunday Observer

North Korea bans foreign tourists as corona virus spreads

North Korea has shut its borders to foreign tourists in a bid to keep out the mysterious, pneumonia-like Corona virus spreading in China next door.

A leading tour operator, Young Pioneer Tours, said its travel partners in North Korea had informed it that they were unable to accept tourists temporarily because of the virus. On its website, it called the move a “precaution” against the virus that has killed nine people and sickened more than 400 in China. No suspected infections have been reported in North Korea.

The move came as the United States on Tuesday confirmed the first case of the Corona virus within its borders, after a traveler returning from Wuhan, the center of the outbreak in China, landed in Washington State.

Tourism is one of the few North Korean industries not under international sanctions imposed by the United Nations and Washington, making the sector vital to Pyongyang’s embattled economy. Most tourists enter the politically restricted and reclusive country through the border with China and are Chinese nationals.

North Korea closed its border to tourists for four months during the height of the Ebola epidemic in Africa in 2014-2015 and also imposed a 21-day quarantine on diplomats and aid workers entering the country.

“I would assume that North Korea will treat this matter much like Ebola back in 2014-2015 so this will affect all foreigners going to North Korea,” Rowan Beard of YPT said in an email, adding that no quarantine has been announced by North Korean customs authorities.

“When the DPRK prevented foreigners from entering North Korea from the Ebola scare this did take an impact on our business and with most of our competitors closing their business in the DPRK,” he added, referring to the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “We’re hoping this time it won’t last as long as Ebola.”

Two Chinese travelers infected with corona virus have been reported in Thailand, officials there said. A man who had traveled from China this month is sick with the disease in Japan, and a Chinese women entering South Korea on Sunday has been isolated after being found to be infected. Australia and the Philippines are investigating suspected cases in their territory.

Though experts were puzzled by the border closure in 2014 during an Ebola outbreak halfway across the world, this week’s move was understandable, given the outbreak of a virus in North Korea’s neighbor and largest trading partner.

“The DPRK government’s costly decision to suspend all foreign tourists is a reasonable strategy to minimize the risk of domestic spread of the new virus,” said Kee Park, a global surgery scholar at Harvard Medical School who has worked extensively in North Korea.

(Source: Washington Post)