After closing Everest for the spring 2020 climbing season, then shutting down all trekking activity a few days back, the government in Nepal is now working on just how to get all of the foreign hikers in the country back home. Reportedly, is has been a very quiet month for travelers visiting the Khumbu Valley en route to Everest Base Camp, but there are still several hundred trekkers in the region at the moment who have been ordered to stay in place. Now, it seems that arrangements are being made to airlift those individuals back to Kathmandu and send them back to their home countries as soon as possible.
According to The Himalayan News about 300 trekkers—most of them from other countries—are currently stranded in the Everest region awaiting evacuation. Similar, another six hikers are in the Manaslu area, with small pockets of others sprinkled throughout Nepal in other places too. With its borders now shut to all incoming non-essential personnel, foreign visitors have been ordered to return home. But in order to make that happen, a coordinated effort is underway that involves using helicopters to airlift the trekkers back to Kathmandu, where their flights home are being expedited.
Yesterday, a Nepali committee that was assembled to fight the growing coronavirus outbreak in the country informed foreign embassies in Nepal if they had citizens that needed to be evacuated. Reportedly, several of those embassies have begun chartering flights and working on contingency plans to isolate and quarantine any trekkers who have been in Nepal upon return home. South Korean and France are two such nations, both of which have been dealing with the coronavirus back home. In Korea, the spread of the disease has been largely contained, while in France the situation is becoming dire.
The goal is to have rounded up all of the trekkers and returned them to Kathmandu over the next few days. Once there, their embassies will oversee the process of getting them home. Thankfully, March is a relatively quiet time on Nepal’s hiking trails to begin with, so these numbers are very low. Had an evacuation taken place in April or May, it would require a lot more effort to overcome the logistical challenges.
By all accounts, the trails in the Himalaya have been very quiet so far this year, with tourism down in Nepal even before the travel ban went into place. Now, they’ll pretty much be empty except for the locals. The economic fallout of that is going to be felt for a very long time to come.