Sun | Dec 11, 2016

N. Korea cracking down on a distant threat: Ebola

Published:Friday | October 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Medical staff are dressed in protective suits as they wait by an ambulance, at the Sunan International Airport, in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea last week stepped up its measures to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.

PYONGYANG (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.

Frantic response

No matter that it is more than 10,000 kilometres (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.