After cancelling the spring climbing season in Nepal due to the coronavirus, the local tourism economy has been pinning its hopes on a return to normal activities in the fall. But as the number of COVID-19 infections continues to rise in that country, even that now looks like it is in serious doubt.
A few days back, the Nepali government announced that it will delay the opening of the country. International flights had been scheduled to resume on August 17, but now they have been pushed until September 1. That means that climbers and trekkers wouldn’t be able to arrive until the first days of September at the earliest. That alone doesn’t rule out potential climbing expeditions this fall, but the uncertainty that comes with it definitely makes things more challenging.
When flights do resume, they will be operating at a greatly reduced capacity. According to reports, the Nepali government will limit the number of flights to just 25% of their normal level in an effort to control the influx of visitors. The plan is to limit the number of incoming people to 300 or less per hour. It is unclear if there will be any kind of screening protocols in place or if certain countries (I’m looking at you U.S.) that will be blocked from entry.
There has been some discussion of requiring a 14 day quarantine for anyone who arrives in Nepal, which of course would automatically add two weeks to any planned trip. This has not been confirmed as happening, but again, the uncertainty surrounding travel to the country will likely keep many people at home. According to ExWeb, many of the local and foreign guiding companies have already given up on the fall, although some independent climbers may still plan late-season Himalayan expeditions.
This is of course all sad news for the local guides, Sherpas, and expedition staff who depend on foreign visitors for their livelihood. What this will do for the Nepali economy long term could be potentially devastating. Hopefully, like the rest of the world, they will be able to hang on and get through this pandemic as best they can.