North Korea ending Ebola travel restrictions: Tour firms

SEOUL (REUTERS) - North Korea is ending a ban on foreign tourists imposed more than four months ago because of worries about the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, two tour operators and a source in regular contact with North Korean officials said on Monday.

North Korea is one of the world's most isolated countries and is thousands of miles from the epicentre of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. It has reported no cases of the virus, which has killed more than 9,000 people.

However, its borders have been closed to foreign tourists since last October for fear the virus might spread and it imposes a strict 21-day quarantine for foreign aid workers and diplomats, who have been told to stay in embassy compounds.

The source, who requested anonymity, said he had been told the Ebola travel restrictions had been lifted.

Koryo Tours, a Chinese-based travel agency that specialises in taking Western tourists to the isolated country, said it had been told to expect an announcement regarding the ban later on Monday.

"Our contacts in the country have informed us to expect that we should hear news later today that North Korea will be reopening its borders after a more than four-month closure due to Ebola," Koryo Tours co-founder Nick Bonner told Reuters.

"The National Tourism Administration in Pyongyang contacted us this morning to let us know that there is some movement in the border policy," he said.

Chinese-based Young Pioneer Tours had similar information. "We have heard that Ebola has been dismissed as a concern by the government this morning and today it is expected to be made official and the border suspension to be lifted," the company's manager, Troy Collings, told Reuters by email.

"The decision has been made but not yet passed down through official channels," he added.

It was not immediately clear if the lifting of the measures applied to foreign diplomats and businessmen, Bonner said.