On August 17, Nepal will begin to resume domestic and international air travel, reopen its borders to tourism, and issue climbing permits to selected peaks for the autumn season. This past spring, Nepal halted air travel and climbing permits in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 within their borders. Though many countries have closed their borders to United States citizens—most of the European Union, New Zealand, Japan, etc.— Nepal will open to Americans this autumn.
There will be new health and safety regulations for travelers, though it remains to be seen exactly what that will be. According to The Himalayan Times, the Health Ministry of Nepal is deciding whether or not incoming travelers will have to self-quarantine when they arrive in Nepal. There will also be a Standard Operating Procedure released by the Department of Tourism with health and safety protocol for climbing and trekking expeditions.
Some tour operators are less than optimistic about carrying out expeditions during the pandemic. Lukas Furtenbach of Furtenbach Adventures told the Times: “What if one person in the expedition team is COVID-19 positive? A regular basecamp setup would be ideal for the virus to spread in the whole team very quickly. Cold temperatures help to spread the virus and the body and immune system are already weakened by the hypoxic environment, exhaustion, and cold. I don’t want to contract COVID-19 infection with high fever and pneumonia when I am high up on the mountain.”
Nepal depends on tourism as a cornerstone of their economy—over 10 billion rupees per month tied to the tourism industry were lost during the COVID-19 lockdown. Meanwhile, the country’s infection rates are still rising according to John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Climbers seeking Himalayan expeditions from hard-hit regions like the United States and Europe could lead to further spread.
The US remains under a Global Level 4 Health Advisory. The Department of State discourages all international travel. Per usembassy.gov: “The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. If you choose to travel internationally, your travel plans may be severely disrupted, and you may be forced to remain outside of the United States for an indefinite timeframe.”