If you’re planning on trekking to Everest Base Camp this fall—or anywhere else in the Nepal’s Khumbu Valley—local authorities have issued some new regulations that you will want to be aware of. As the Himalayan country continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism officials are muddying the waters a bit with their message on vaccine requirements, which may or may not be required based on recent proclamations.
Last week, local authorities from the Khumbu Pasanglhamu Rural Municipality of Solukhumbu district—which is the region that surrounds Everest—announced that only travelers who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed in the Khumbu for the autumn trekking and climbing season. That means anyone planning on heading to Everest base camp this fall will have to be inoculated before they will be allowed to proceed, at least in theory.
The same proclamation does provide a level of ambiguity however by stating that unvaccinated trekkers can provide a negative PCR test and still be allowed to enter the region. The problem is, getting a PCR test in the Khumbu is likely to prove very challenging and it is possible for a traveler to test negative when the test was administered but become exposed to the virus before starting their Himalayan hike.
According to officials, both domestic and international travelers will be subject to a COVID antigen test conducted at the Kharikhola Community Health Centre in Khumbu Pasanglhamu RM-1 or the Chaurikharka Health Post in Khumbu Pasanglhamu RM-3 prior to entering the region. Anyone who tests positive will be required to quarantine at their own expense in a facility provided by the rural municipality.
COVID in the Khumbu
When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, travel to Nepal came to a screeching halt. The spring climbing season on Everest was cancelled and foreign trekkers were barred from hiking. This kept the Khumbu region fairly isolated from the virus, preventing it from spreading too widely. But this past spring, mountaineering and trekking expeditions resumed and the influx of visitors brought COVID to the Himalaya. Villages were hit hard and many took ill, creating a difficult situation for locals and foreign travelers alike.
Since then, officials in the Solukhumbu District have worked hard to make things safer. According to a recent report, 98% of everyone living in the Khumbu Valley who is over the age of 18 has been vaccinated. The goal is to prevent another widespread outbreak while continuing to reopen to travelers.
As with other parts of the world, Nepal is currently struggling with the Delta variant of the virus, although its infection rate and number of deaths is way down compared to the peak in June. As more of the country gets inoculated, the sooner it can get back to normal, which includes accommodating as many climbers and backpackers who want to visit.
Tourism Industry Demands Vaccinations
Because of the lockdown in travel, Nepal’s tourism industry was economically devastated in 2020. This led many tour operators to rush back into business this year, a factor that contributed to the COVID outbreak this past spring. Now, those same operators are looking to continue moving forward, but in a safer fashion.
A few weeks back, several organizations that represent the travel industry in Nepal joined forces to demand government officials provide all citizens with the vaccine as soon as possible. Provisions for doing that were included in the country’s 2021-2022 budget, but so far the medicine has been slow to materialize for most Nepalis. Representatives of the tourism groups say that things can never get back to normal until a significant portion of the population has been inoculated.
The requests of the Ministry of Tourism didn’t end there however. The travel operators also requested vaccines for incoming foreign visitors and PCR tests upon arrive at the airport. The goal is to eliminate the need to quarantine to allow travelers to get on with their journey as soon as possible. Adding a week to ten days to the schedule for the quarantine has been a significant hurdle for many.
Will Vaccine Requirements Help?
The idea of requiring vaccines for all visitors seems like a good one, but this being Nepal it is easy to be skeptical. After all, this is the country that announced that all climbers coming in the spring would be required to quarantine upon arrival. But this requirement was quickly forgotten once the season truly got underway. The result was disastrous for many of those who were in Everest Base Camp and the country as a whole.
Nepal has a long history of announcing new rules and regulation. What it isn’t especially good at is actually enforcing those rules and regulation. Will this be different this time? Only time will tell. But if you are going to the Himalaya this fall, you might want to be vaccinated ahead of time just in case.
Then again, even if you’re not planning to trek to EBC anytime soon, you should probably get vaccinated anyway.
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