North Korean quarantine not disrupting business much, but Ebola-sparked travel ban hits harder

Industries Associated Press

North Korea's quarantine of foreigners to prevent Ebola has not disrupted business with the nation's largest trading partner, Chinese businesspeople say, although a tourist ban has hurt travel agencies that run tours to the reclusive country.

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Tourist visits were halted last week, and North Korea announced Thursday it would quarantine other visitors for 21 days over fears of the spread of the Ebola virus. The steps came even though the disease has not occurred anywhere in Asia, and very few foreigners are allowed to enter North Korea anyway.

China is its largest trading partner, a vital source of food and fuel. A significant amount of trade flows through the Chinese port city of Dandong, which faces North Korea's Sinuiju across a river and is connected to it by rail.

A manager of a trading company in Dandong, who only gave his family name Wang when reached over the phone, said his employees got quarantined for one or two days last week but that North Korea has not actively enforced the rule.

"The policy would have an impact on trade, so obviously it is not being enforced," Wang said.

A man from Dangdong Tianda International Cargo Transportation Co. said employees of his company travel into and out of North Korea on a daily basis. "None of them has got quarantined," he said over the phone. "The border trade is very normal. You can go and see."

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He refused to give his name.

Ma Xiaohong, manager of Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co., said her company has seen little impact largely because the majority of the business is handled over the phone.

In Beijing, before a Friday flight took off for Pyongyang, a Chinese man said he and four fellow travelers did not expect to be quarantined because they were on an official visit to North Korea. He also refused to give his name.

Two other travelers said they were unaware of the quarantine requirement. A woman at the Air China counter at the airport said a flight of seven travelers was not unusual for Pyongyang-bound flights.

But travel agencies have to cancel tours after Pyongyang banned foreign tourists, most of whom are Chinese who prefer to enter North Korea overland instead of flying.

The official China News service said more than 500 Chinese tourists were stranded in Dandong on Oct. 24, after Pyongyang halted any foreign tourists from entering the country

Quan Shunji, the general manager for a major travel agency, told China News that customers had requested full refunds or that their trips be rescheduled. Quan said she had complained to both the Chinese and North Korean authorities about the financial loss.

North Korea has imposed past travel bans. It closed its borders for several months in 2003 during the scare over SARS.

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AP researcher Yu Bing and journalist Isolda Morillo contributed to this report.