PYONGYANG, North Korea, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Tour operators specializing in North Korea travel said organizers have banned foreign runners from participating in its annual marathon.
Beijing-based Koryo Tours said early Monday they were told by North Korean partners the ban is "due to fear over the Ebola virus."
The Pyongyang Marathon, officially known as the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon, is named after the designated birthplace of North Korea's founding leader Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of current North Korean head-of-state Kim Jong Un.
In 2014, the marathon was opened for the first time to both professional and amateur foreign runners. More than 200 athletes, representing 27 countries, participated in the 26-mile race.
U.S.-based travel operator Uri Tours also notified its customers of the ban, reminding travelers the decision by North Korean marathon organizers is part of an ongoing North Korean restriction on travel.
In December, Uri Tours canceled a ski tour of North Korea's Masik Pass due to similar North Korean concerns over Ebola. The company stated on its website Monday that the marathon ban was partly due to logistics. North Korean organizers, said Uri Tours, need more time to process the registrations.
North Korea's ban comes at a time when global restrictions on travel are being lifted. On Sunday, Liberia announced an end to its nationwide Ebola curfew.
The U.S. company also said the Pyongyang Marathon committee "reserves the right to reopen the race to foreign runners," if the reclusive regime's restrictions are lifted before April 12, the day of the race.
Prior to the ban, enthusiasm for the marathon had been building on social media.
In early February, Simon said on social media the marathon afforded participants the opportunity to run or walk the street of Pyongyang in relative freedom while "crowds of locals cheer you along the way."
Travel in North Korea is highly restricted and according to North Korean regulations each visitor must conform to a strict itinerary and be accompanied by two North Korean guides, Cockerell said.