Tour agency: N Korea bans foreign tourists over new virus

A tour operator says North Korea has banned foreign tourists to guard against the spread of a new virus from China

SEOUL, South Korea —
North Korea has banned foreign tourists to guard against the spread of a new virus from China, a tour operator said.

The temporary closing of the North Korean border would begin Wednesday, said Young Pioneer Tours in a statement and subsequent tweet.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said Wednesday it couldn’t confirm the report.

Most foreign tourists to North Korea are Chinese or are people who travel to the North from China, its major diplomatic ally and biggest aid benefactor.

Young Pioneer Tours is based in China. In its statement, it said further details had not yet been confirmed by its North Korean partners.

“If you are currently booked on our upcoming tours to North Korea our staff will reach out to you to confirm further details,” it said in the statement late Tuesday.

Tourism has been one of the few legitimate sources of foreign currency with North Korea, which is under multiple rounds of U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program. The North has been building ski slopes, spas and other attractions to entice more tourists and boost its economy.

North Korea hasn’t reported any cases of the new coronavirus centered in China. But its state media has reported about the virus’ outbreak in China to try to increase public awareness of the disease and symptoms.

In 2003, North Korea closed its borders during the scare over SARS, which is caused by a different coronavirus. At the time, North Korea suspend South Korean tours to its scenic mountain for two months, South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said. The joint tour program was eventually suspended in 2008 after a North Korean soldier fatally shot a South Korean tourist.