Govt not to issue expedition permits, on-arrival visas to be suspended

KATHMANDU: The Government of Nepal will no longer issue climbing permits for spring expeditions on different mountains including Mt Everest, for now. A high-level committee meeting chaired by deputy prime minister Ishwor Pokharel took a decision to halt all mountain expeditions because of the coronavirus scare.

China has already closed its Tibet route for expeditions on Mt Everest, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma.

The meeting of the high-level coordination committee to discuss the prevention and control of the COVID-19 outbreak held on Thursday took a decision to this effect.

Considering the risk that the country faces from the infection with the pouring in of climbers from various countries, and the threat that the climbers might face with close interaction with one another, the meeting held at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPMCM) decided to revoke the already issued or to be issued permits for the spring climbing season.

The meeting also decided to suspend on-arrival visa for tourists entering the country from the immigration point at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. “In the beginning, the government had suspended the on-arrival visa for tourists from five highly-affected countries, which has now been extended in view of COVID-19 being a pandemic,” said government spokesperson, Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada.

This, as a consequence, will also affect the spring climbing season as climbers will not be permitted entry in the country.

With the outbreak of coronavirus showing no sign of abating, expedition operators in Nepal fear that the country would bear severe economic losses in the Everest climbing season that runs from March to May.

Earlier, Pasang Sherpa, managing director at Pioneer Adventure Treks, informed that seven Chinese members from his company dropped their plans to scale the world’s highest peak from Nepal side this spring season. “Now, we can hardly expect climbers from China, Iran, South Korea, Japan and a few European countries, including Italy, among others,” Damber Parajuli, president of Expedition Operators Association Nepal, said.

Meanwhile, on March 10, an eight-member team of icefall doctors left for the Mt Everest base camp from Namche Bazaar to fix a climbing route up to Camp II in the world’s highest peak. The experienced ice doctors were expected to start opening climbing routes by fixing ladders and ropes for the main climbing season, but now would be left in a lurch.

Moreover, the meeting at the Prime Minister's Office also carried out discussions on Nepal’s preparedness to stay safe from the pandemic. As part of preparedness measures, the meeting has decided to additionally set up quarantine zones and isolation wards and increase the supply of equipment and test kits for the virus amidst the World Health Organisation putting Nepal at high risk of the infection.

Similarly, health workers and representatives of Nepal Red Cross, Nepal Scouts and other social institutions associated with medical sector would be put on standby. Educational institutions and their examinations would continue until infection is detected. Public will be appealed to stay alert and not participate in public events and gatherings.

As other drastic measures, the government plans to completely halt flights to and from affected countries. It will seal border points and only allow import/export of essential goods. Other measures include mobilising maximum human resources, logistics and technology in all hospitals and health centres across the country and putting in place mobile health centres, if need be.