By James Pearson
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea is set to reopen an international marathon to overseas runners after ending a ban on most foreigners entering the country because of fears over the deadly Ebola virus, tour companies said on Thursday.
North Korean officials had previously told travel agencies specializing in tours to the isolated country that foreign runners were no longer allowed to participate in the marathon scheduled for April in the capital, Pyongyang.
The country closed its borders to foreign tourists last October for fear the virus might spread and imposed a strict 21-day quarantine on foreign aid workers and diplomats, who were told to stay in embassy compounds. The travel ban was lifted for most visitors this week.
"I spoke to our North Korean partners this morning who said they were in discussions with the marathon committee about reopening the event to foreign runners," Troy Collings, manager of Chinese-based Young Pioneer Tours, told Reuters.
"It looks likely we'll be able to have our groups join the race as planned. We're still awaiting full confirmation, which should come in a couple of days," Collings said.
Andrea Lee, CEO of U.S.-based Uri Tours, said her company had received similar information.
Chinese-based Koryo Tours, which also specializes in trips to North Korea, told Reuters it was in the process of contacting and rebooking tourists who had signed up for the race.
North Korea, thousands of miles from the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, has reported no cases of the virus, which has killed more than 9,000 people.
Tourists from Ebola-affected countries in West Africa are still prohibited from traveling to the country, a memo distributed by North Korean officials said.
All tourists, regardless of nationality, are still subject to medical and temperature checks and required to sign a statement saying they have not recently traveled to Ebola-stricken areas, according to the memo, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters.
(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Alan Raybould)