On Wednesday of this week, China announced that it would close Mt. Everest to all climbing expeditions this spring, shutting down one half of the mountain in the process. Now, Nepal has followed suit, temporarily suspending the issuing of permits for Everest and all other 8000-meter peaks in an effort to fight the spread of coronavirus. Beyond that however, the country has also announced that it will stop issuing on-arrival visas as well, effectively closing its borders ahead of the spring climbing and trekking season.
The announcement came from Nepali officials late Thursday evening local time after a meeting of high level members of the government. With foreign climbers poised to descend upon Kathmandu at the start of April, the chances of someone introducing the virus to Nepal seemed extremely high. Thus far, health officials in Nepal say that they have seen relatively few cases of the coronavirus and that containment has been working. But with so many visitors arriving from zones where the virus remains a threat, the risks were simply too great to ignore.
This move puts an end to the spring climbing season in the Himalaya, where hundreds of climbers attempt Everest alone each year. On a broader scale, each April and May sees thousands more arrive in Nepal to climb other peaks and hike the mountain trails found there too. By closing its borders, those travelers won’t be putting in an appearance, likely delivering a severe blow to an already struggling economy. Still, those losses will be minimal compared to the damage that the coronavirus could bring should it spread widely throughout the country.
According to reports, the visa-on-arrival program in Nepal has been suspended until April 30 at the minimum. The ban begins tomorrow, March 14 and will run at least until the end of April, at which time the extent of the coronavirus impact will likely be reevaluated. If things are starting to improve, the borders will probably begin to reopen, but if the virus continues to spread at a rapid pace, the ban could be extended.
This news effectively drops the curtain on what is one of the busiest times on the outdoor adventure and exploration calendar. But we are currently living in extremely unusual times and that requires unusual measures. We’ve certainly not heard the last of the impact of his dangerous virus and things may very well get much worse before they get better. Stay safe and healthy out there.