SEOUL, South Korea — For U.S. health officials fretting over states going their own way on Ebola quarantines, consider this: North Korea, which in the best of times allows a limited number of people in or out, is rattled enough about the virus that it reportedly will quarantine anyone coming into the country from anywhere.
The country’s state-run news media reported on Thursday that all those returning from overseas trips will be quarantined for 20 days. And The Associated Press, which has a bureau in Pyongyang, said that diplomatic missions there were told that foreigners coming into the country would be quarantined under medical observation for 21 days, the maximum incubation period for the disease. (It was unclear why there was a discrepancy in the quarantine periods.)
“We are doubling our efforts to detect potential patients in time,” the North’s state-run Pyongyang Radio said on Thursday, reporting tightened quarantine efforts at ports, borders and airports. The North Korean radio was monitored by the South Korean news agency Yonhap.
North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated countries, often expresses fears of threats from other nations — mainly those from the U.S. and South Korea — and lectures its people frequently about those threats. According to The Associated Press, a high-level delegation from Japan was greeted this week by a group that included two people in full hazardous-material gear.
Ebola epidemics are ravaging three nations — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — while other countries, like the U.S., have had a small number of cases. Japan is not one of those countries.
It was unclear if people already temporarily in North Korea, for example on business, would have to remain there for the quarantine period even if their trips were scheduled to end sooner. According to tour operators, the country last week was worried enough about Ebola to bar tourists, who have been a source of income for the impoverished country.
Foreigners from Ebola-affected areas are to be quarantined at one set of locations, while those from unaffected areas will be sent to other locations, including hotels, according to The Associated Press. The report said staff members of diplomatic missions and international organizations would be allowed to stay in their residences.
Also unclear was whether North Korea would quarantine Kim Yong Nam, the head of its parliament, when he returns from Africa, where he is leading a delegation. He is not traveling in the affected areas.
The country appeared to be controlling some outbound travel as well. This week, Choson Exchange, a Singapore-based organization that specializes in promoting educational exchanges with North Korea, said the country was not sending people to attend a workshop in Singapore.
“We are still trying to find out more about these latest measures and when they will be reverted so that our programs can continue,” Choson Exchange said on its website.