N. Korea cracking down on a distant threat: Ebola

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N. Korea cracking down on a distant threat: Ebola
In this May 28, 2015 photo, Yun Chang Hyok, Vice Chief of the Research Institute of North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration, talks during an interview in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korean space agency officials say the country is developing a more advanced Earth observation satellite and are defending their right to conduct rocket launches whenever they see fit, despite protests by the United States and others that say the launches are aimed primarily at honing military-use technologies. (AP Photo/APTN)
In this May 28, 2015 photo, Paek Chang Ho, Vice Director of the Scientific Research and Development Department of North Korea’s National Aerospace Development Administration, talks during an interview in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korean space agency officials say the country is developing a more advanced Earth observation satellite and are defending their right to conduct rocket launches whenever they see fit, despite protests by the United States and others that say the launches are aimed primarily at honing military-use technologies. (AP Photo/APTN)
FILE - In thus Dec. 16, 2014 file photo, North Koreans gather at the Mansu Hill where the statues of the late leaders Kim Il Sung, and Kim Jong Il tower over them, in Pyongyang, North Korea. The U.S. is imposing sanctions on North Korea in retaliation for the cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Friday authorizing the sanctions. Although the U.S. has already sanctioned North Korea over its nuclear program, these are the first sanctions punishing Pyongyang for alleged cyberattacks. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)
In this photo released by South Korea's Navy and distributed by Yonhap news agency, a sea-to-air missile "Sea Sparrow" is launched from South Korean destroyer Uljimundeok during a fire drill to mark the fourth anniversary of North Korea’s artillery attack in the West Sea, South Korea, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. North Korea threatened Thursday to bolster its war capability and conduct a fourth nuclear test to cope with what it calls U.S. hostility that led to the approval of a landmark U.N. resolution on its human rights violations. (AP Photo/South Korean Navy via Yonhap) KOREA OUT
PAJU, SOUTH KOREA - OCTOBER 10: (SOUTH KOREA OUT) In this handout provided by the Jang Seong-Yoon-Donga Daily, North Korean defectors, now living in South Korea, prepare to release balloons carrying propaganda leaflets denouncing North Korea's nuclear test, near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on October 10, 2014 in Paju, South Korea. Seoul's military said they exchanged machine gun fire with North Korea on Friday, after the North opened fire toward balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets floated across the border. (Photo by Jang Seong-Yoon-Donga Daily via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Dec. 26, 2014 file photo, a North Korea's mock Scud-B missile, center, stands among South Korean missiles displayed at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea. South Korea said Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 that rival North Korea has a 6,000-member cyber army dedicated to disrupting the South's military and government. The figure is a dramatic increase from its earlier estimate that the North had a cyberwarfare staff of 3,000. Seoul's Defense Ministry said in a report that North Korea may also have gained the ability to strike the U.S. mainland because of its recent progress in missile technology, which was demonstrated in five long-range missile tests in 2009 and 2012, and is advancing in efforts to miniaturize nuclear warheads to mount on such missiles. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)
In this Wednesday, April 9, 2014 image made from video, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holds up parliament membership certificate during the Supreme People's Assembly in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea's newly-selected parliament met for the first time on Wednesday in Pyongyang. It was the first time that North Korea has reassembled its parliament under new leader Kim. (AP Photo/KRT via AP Video) TV OUT, NORTH KOREA OUT
The city skyline is shrouded by a layer of mist after a torrential rain in Pyongyang, Monday, July 22, 2013. The country is preparing to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
In this Sunday, May 13, 2012 photo, a North Korean family rests on a grassy spot near the skyline of a newly developed area of Pyongyang. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
Clouds hang over the skyline of central Pyongyang, North Korea Monday April 18, 2011. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
In this photo taken Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009, a view of the skyline of downtown Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2009. (AP Photo/Jean H. Lee)
Juche Tower stands above the skyline across from Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - 2013/09/19: Pyongyang's newly built luxury housing for those citizens who are more fortunate in North Korea. 60 years after the Korean War, it is clear that not much has changed in North Korea. The country still remains under heavy censorship, with only a small portion of the population living the life of what we call 'middle class'. The people of North Korea are forced into believing that working for the greater good of the state is the formal way of presenting their national determination. The city of Pyongyang is outdated, with only a handful of cars driven by those who are a bit more fortunate. Propaganda rates are high, with many billboards displaying missiles and world domination regimes. North Korea remains a strictly isolated country where people do not have the privileges that we take for granted. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Fireworks explode above the Pyongyaang skyline during a display to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean war armistice agreement, in Pyongyang on July 27, 2013. North Korea mounted its largest ever military parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War, displaying its long-range missiles at a ceremony presided over by leader Kim Jong-Un. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
The Yanggakdo Football Stadium stands before the Pyongyang city skyline on April 13, 2012. North Korea launched a long-range rocket, South Korea's defence ministry and US officials said, with Japan saying that the launch had appeared to have failed. AFP PHOTO / Ed Jones (Photo credit should read Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - 1994/04/01: The construction skeleton of what would be the world tallest hotel. Unfortunately, the 105 story Ryuyong Hotel and its five rotating restaurants will likely never open. When personel from Hyatt hotels inspected the site they discovered that the elevator shaft wasn't even straight. (Photo by Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images)
PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - 1994/02/01: A hotel on the river in Pyongyang. (Photo by Gerhard Joren/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A smartly dressed business woman walks under North Korean flags and the imposing Juche Tower.
Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea, Pyongyang, Moranbong Theatre, venue of National Symphony Orchestra - Fountain statues detail;
PUNGGYE-RI NUCLEAR TEST SITE, NORTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 16, 2014: Figure 1-A. DigitalGlobe imagery of the bypass road constructed at the West Portal of the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site. Date: September 16, 2014 -- published on 38 North. (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
YONGBYON NUCLEAR FACILITY, NORTH KOREA - JUNE 22, 2014: This is Figure 3-2 -- DigitalGlobe imagery of an after photo of the dam failure at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center showing sand being excavated for the new dam. Image taken on June 22, 2014 -- published on 38 North (Photo DigitalGlobe/38 North via Getty Images)
This video grab taken from North Korean TV on March 20, 2013 shows a Self-Propelled Suface to Air Missile during North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's overseeing of a live fire military drill using drones and cruise missile interceptors. Kim Jong-Un oversaw a live fire military drill using drones and cruise missile interceptors, state media said, amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. ----EDITORS NOTE --- RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT ' AFP PHOTO / NORTH KOREAN TV' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - AFP PHOTO/HO/NORTH KOREAN TV (Photo credit should read NORTH KOREAN TV/AFP/Getty Images)
In this undated photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, a South Korean sea-to-land cruise missile is fired from a submarine during a drill at an undisclosed location in South Korea. South Korea also Wednesday it has deployed cruise missiles with "world-class accuracy and destructive power" that are capable of hitting any target in North Korea at any time, and is speeding up the planned deployment of ballistic missiles. North Korea's neighbors bolstered their military preparations and mobilized scientists Wednesday to determine whether Pyongyang's third nuclear test, conducted in defiance of U.N. warnings, was as successful as the North claimed. (AP Photo/South Korea Defense Ministry)
In this undated photo released by the South Korean Defense Ministry on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, a South Korean ship-to-land cruise missile is fired from a destroyer during a drill at an undisclosed location in South Korea. South Korea said Wednesday it has deployed cruise missiles with "world-class accuracy and destructive power" that are capable of hitting any target in North Korea at any time, and is speeding up the planned deployment of ballistic missiles. North Korea's neighbors bolstered their military preparations and mobilized scientists Wednesday to determine whether Pyongyang's third nuclear test, conducted in defiance of U.N. warnings, was as successful as the North claimed. (AP Photo/South Korea Defense Ministry)
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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - Japan is not exactly Ebola country, but when a high-level delegation from Tokyo arrived in Pyongyang this week, two of the first people they met were dressed in full hazmat gear.

North Korea is always on guard against outside influences, but now that it perceives the deadly disease to be a threat, its anxiety has reached a new level. It has banned tourists, is mulling strict quarantine requirements, has put business groups on hold and is looking even more suspiciously than usual at every foreign face coming across its borders.

No matter that it is more than 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) from the nearest confirmed case, or that its ties to affected countries are minuscule.

The North's frantic response to the Ebola outbreak, including the broad but so-far poorly defined ban on foreign tourism, is also surprising because the notoriously reclusive country admits so few foreigners in the first place. Other than diplomatic and government missions, it has virtually no contact with any of the countries that have been most affected in west Africa, though, ironically, Kim Yong Nam, the head of North Korea's parliament, is now touring other parts of Africa.

But the measures shed some light on how the bureaucracy in North Korea tends to work, and on the isolated country's views on the outside world in general.

For the record: There have been no cases of Ebola in North Korea.

But last week, after rumors began to circulate among the small foreign community in Pyongyang that draconian measures were in the offing, North Korea's state media announced that travelers and cargo would be subject to stricter monitoring at airports, seaports and border railway crossings.

Daily pieces are being broadcast on the television news and during evening programming to increase public awareness of the disease and its symptoms. North Korea's Korean Central Television aired a news story on Sunday that showed quarantine officials strengthening inspections of people and boats moving in and out of the port city of Nampo.

"Our army, which protects our borders, has a high responsibility to block the disease," said Han Yong Sik, director of the Nampo export-and-import inspection center told the network. "We are strengthening quarantine education and thoroughly inspecting boats and planes to ensure that not even a single person carrying the disease enters our country."

So far, there has been no official statement in the North's English-language media outlining the tourism ban or other restrictions on travel into or out of the country. There was, and remains, little information on what groups are affected, whether travel out of North Korea will be stopped and under what conditions the restrictions would be lifted.

That, of course, has left potential travelers scratching their heads - and businesses bleeding money.

"It was poorly communicated," noted a post Monday on the website of the Choson Exchange, a Singapore-based organization that specializes in promoting business and educational exchange with the North. "This didn't allow stakeholders time to prepare for it. For Choson Exchange, we could be seeing potentially tens of thousands of dollars of losses as we delay training programs, and possibly even more as this drags on.

"For businesspeople, a shutdown will likely hurt their investment plans or transactions."

Uri Tours, a U.S.-based travel agency that specializes in tours to North Korea - officially called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - has informed potential customers that tours have been halted, and that anyone coming to the North from certain areas may be quarantined.

"We have heard from multiple sources on the ground that the DPRK is in the process of setting up a quarantine process whereby foreigners who have been to affected areas are quarantined for a period of 21 days," it announced on its website. "So far, the only 'affected areas' appear to be in Africa. We have yet to see how this quarantine will be executed."

Other sources in Pyongyang say the country may broaden that even further - requiring all foreigners coming in from anywhere to undergo a 21-day quarantine.

More than 13,700 people have been sickened in the outbreak, and nearly 5,000 of them have died. Nearly all the cases are in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, though there were 20 in Nigeria, four in the U.S. and one each in Mali, Senegal and Spain.

Uri Tours says it believes the ban on tourists is just temporary - and is holding out hope that they may be able to return in December.

The North's reaction isn't unprecedented. It closed its borders for several months in 2003 during the scare over SARS.

But that was a much more obvious threat. SARS affected China, and Beijing is where most flights into Pyongyang originate. In the case of Ebola, North Korea's efforts to defend itself from what appears to be a tiny risk may end up alienating it from foreigners who have been willing to invest here.

"Overall, this episode seems to reflect two things. First, a callous attitude toward stakeholders in the country's development stemming from poor communications or the lack of will to communicate," said the Choson Exchange blog. "Second, that North Korea's 'fear of the foreign' outweighs their interest in whatever benefits foreign investment brings."

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