By James Pearson
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has banned foreign runners from participating in an international marathon scheduled to be held in the capital in April, citing fears about the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, a Beijing-based travel agency said on Monday.
North Korea is thousands of miles from the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and has reported no cases of the virus, which has killed more than 9,000 people.
Nonetheless, its borders have remained closed to foreign tourists since last October, for fear the virus might spread, and it imposes a strict 21-day quarantine for foreign aid workers and diplomats, who have been told to stay in embassy compounds.
"Our North Korean partners in Pyongyang contacted us this morning with news that the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon has - as of today - been closed to amateur and professional foreign runners," Nick Bonner, director of Koryo Tours, told Reuters in an emailed statement.
Pyongyang, the isolated and secretive country's capital, has held an international marathon most years since 1981 but last year was the first time foreigners had been allowed to compete.
"We were told that this is due to the ongoing precautions that the country has put in place in relation to fears held there over the Ebola virus," said Bonner. He said his group had expected to take up to 500 tourists to North Korea this year.
"It is still unclear when the borders will be reopened, but we were also advised not to cancel our March tours, and to expect an update on the border situation at the end of February," said Bonner.
(Editing by Paul Tait)