Last week we shared the news that Nepal was planning to reopen to foreign travelers starting on October 17, welcoming trekkers and climbers back into the country. As with most places around the globe, Nepal has been on strict lockdown since the start of the pandemic this past spring, even going so far as to cancel the lucrative Everest climbing season. When the opening date was revealed, there were a number of restrictions and requirements that were announced for anyone planning on visiting the Himalayan country this fall. Those rules were put in place by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation and were designed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, keeping both travelers and Nepali citizens safe. But now, just as the travel ban is set to lift, it looks like government officials are backtracking on most of those restrictions.
When the Nepali government announced its plans for reopening, it also stated that anyone planning on entering the country would need to show proof that they had tested negative for coronavirus within 72 hours of their arrival. All travelers would also be required to carry travel insurance to cover any expenses should the contract the virus while there. Perhaps most restrictive of all, foreign visitors were expected to quarantine for seven days before setting out on their journey. That included trekkers and mountaineers heading into the mountains, where COVID-19 outbreaks have been fairly limited thus far.
These rules and regulations were met with mixed reactions. Most travel experts felt that the were a reasonable approach to reopening in a time of uncertainty. On the other hand, the local guides and travel agents found them to be stifling to the business. Anyone coming to visit Nepal would need to tack on an extra week—with added expense—just to cover their time in quarantine. That could translate to fewer people coming, as most travelers have already elected to stay close to home anyway.
As it so often does, the Nepali government has bowed to pressure however. Today it was announced that the announced restrictions for incoming travelers would mostly be dropped—including the need to quarantine. Officials now say that if a foreign visitor can provide a negative coronavirus test from 72-hours prior to their arrival, they will no longer need to stay in lockdown for the first week of their visit. The requirement of a $5000 COVID-19 travel insurance plan has also been waived, although travelers will have to assume responsibility for any medical costs should they contract the virus while in the country.
According to The Himalayan Times Nepali officials are still finalizing the guidelines for safe travel while visiting the nation, even as the ban is set to lift in a little over one week’s time. Further guidance is expected to help guiding companies to keep their clients safe while on the trail, with specific rules governing when and where to wear a mask, how to properly distance themselves from others, and so on.
The most likely place where visitors could be exposed to the virus is in the capital city of Kathmandu. It is there—and the surrounding Kathmandu Valley—that most infections have taken place thus far. According to Worldometer, Nepal has seen just over 100,000 COVID cases thus far and roughly 600 total deaths. At the moment, those numbers are holding fairly steady, indicating that there is some stability when it comes to managing the disease. Hopefully, that won’t change with the influx of foreign travelers, many of whom could bring the virus along with them or get infected while en route.
Naturally, the local travel industry has reacted positively to the new of the lifting of restrictions. It has been a dire year economically speaking in Nepal, where tourism makes up more than 8% of the GDP. That is a significant portion for any one industry, particularly one that is suffering so badly at the moment. Trekking companies and mountaineering guides are eager to get back to work and start earning some money, although it is uncertain right now just how many people will actually be willing to go for a visit.
So? What do you think? Would you be wiling to travel to Nepal at the moment? The country certainly isn’t overrun with the virus like man others—I’m looking at you America—but there are still inherent risks with such a journey. Personally, I’m content to stay close to home for now and wait for a vaccine that will hopefully make it safe to wander the planet again. Right now, that seems like it is a few months off at best.