Tourism to North Korea has been suspended by government authorities amid growing fears surrounding the spread of China coronavirus, a travel operator told NK News on Tuesday.
The high-impact precautionary measure comes amid rising concerns in Northeast Asia surrounding the transmission of the mystery virus in recent days.
“We’ve been informed all foreign tourists will be temporally suspended from entering North Korea until they feel the Coronavirus is well under control,” Young Pioneer Tours‘ (YPT) North Korea tour manager Rowan Beard told NK News.
The measures will kick in on Wednesday, an additional statement by the company said.
“Further details are yet to be confirmed by our travel partners in North Korea and we will continue to make all future announcements on our website.”
The announcement came after the Myohyangsan International Travel Company (MITC) unveiled a more specific measure earlier Tuesday, a spokesperson at YPT said, halting the entry of Chinese tourists into North Korea via the border at Sinuiju.
MITC is one of North Korea’s multiple state tourism companies, falling under the authority of the National Tourism Administration (NTA).
The tourist entry prohibitions – if sustained – will likely have significant impact on North Korea’s economy, given the meteoric growth of tourism since 2018, and appear similar to measures taken five years ago during a regional outbreak of Ebola.
Similar restrictions were put in place during the peak of the SARS virus outbreak in 2003 to reduce the risk of visitors spreading the disease in the country where few people have access to proper healthcare.
“Depending on the incubation period of this virus, it is likely that North Korea starts enforcing a quarantine again,” said Thomas Fisler, Switzerland’s former Resident Representative to the DPR Korea, who was based in Pyongyang from 2013 to 2017.
During the anti-Ebola measures, Fisler was quarantined twice during his visits to the country.
“We did not have any contact for three weeks. The restrictions were quite dramatic.”
News of the measure against Chinese coronavirus — reported to have begun in the city of Wuhan — follow reports that the virus has been detected in South Korea and potentially Thailand.
As of Tuesday, six are reported to have died from the illness, with new screening measures imposed at several major regional airports.
The study, conducted jointly by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), highlighted the DPRK’s severe lack of public health infrastructure, trained medical personnel, and ability to communicate important safety information.
The study noted that “no country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics, and every country has important gaps to address,” but the DPRK’s position was particularly low, coming in at third-to-last out of the 195 nations included in the index.
Nils Weisensee is Director of News Operations at Korea Risk Group and covers cybersecurity for NK Pro. He previously founded information security firm Frontier Intelligence, served as head of operations at non-profit Choson Exchange, and was a reporter for DAPD and the Associated Press.