SEOUL (Reuters) – A foreign tour operator said on Tuesday that North Korea is to temporarily ban foreign tourists due to the spread of a deadly new coronavirus in China.
The vast majority of tourists to North Korea come from China, Pyongyang’s main supporter.
Young Pioneer Tours, an adventure travel company based in China, said in a statement that from Wednesday North Korea will temporarily close its borders to all foreign tourists as a precaution against the virus, which has rapidly spread from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“I have confirmed the DPRK will temporarily suspend all foreign tourists from entering North Korea until they feel the coronavirus is well under control,” Rowan Beard of Young Pioneer Tours told Reuters, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Further details are yet to be confirmed by the company’s travel partners in North Korea, the Young Pioneer Tours statement said.
A manager at another foreign tour company contacted by Reuters said they too had been told of such a move, but that it was not yet clear who would be affected by such a policy, with more details expected on Wednesday.
Fears are growing over the virus, which could be spread through human contact, with millions of Asians traveling for the Lunar New Year holiday this week. In China, the number of confirmed cases rose to 291 on Monday.
Tourism is one of the last major ways that North Korea can legally earn foreign cash, as international sanctions restrict many other forms of business with the politically isolated country.
North Korea is estimated to earn millions of dollars from the steady flow of Chinese tourists.
South Korean budget airline T’way Air said on Tuesday it has postponed the scheduled launch of a new route to Wuhan because of concern over the spread of the new coronavirus.
(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous words in penultimate paragraph)
Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Angus MacSwan