US-based Uri Tours and China-based Young Pioneer Tours both said they had been told the ban imposed back in October had been lifted, and they could now resume tour bookings to the North.
Uri Tours said it had received a communication from the North's state carrier, Air Koryo, that North Korea's borders were "now open for travel". "According to Air Koryo, everything is back to normal!" the tour agency said in a statement. A woman answering the phone at the Air Koryo office in Beijing told AFP: "Yes, now tourists can go."
North Korea, which has not registered a single suspected case of Ebola, closed its borders to foreign tourists on October 24. It also strictly enforced a 21-day quarantine period on anyone entering the country, including foreign diplomats and businessmen. It was not immediately clear if all the quarantine restrictions had been lifted as well.
A third tour agency, Koryo Tours based in Beijing, said it had been told to resume tour bookings but had yet to receive formal confirmation that the ban was over. Tourism is a crucial source of hard currency for the cash-strapped North, but it seemed willing to take a financial hit to avert any chance of an Ebola outbreak that its weak health infrastructure would be totally incapable of dealing with.
Just last week it announced a ban on foreigners taking part in its annual international Pyongyang marathon in April. The reclusive nation has a history of shutting itself off in the face of external health threats.
In 2003, it suspended foreign tours for three months due to fears over the spread of SARS. Ebola, one of the deadliest pathogens known to man, is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person showing symptoms such as fever or vomiting. More than 9,500 people have died of the disease since the west African epidemic emerged in southern Guinea in December 2013.