Local authorities in the Mount Everest area have dropped all restrictions related to the Covid-19 epidemic. Foreign tourists no longer need to have an up-to-date coronavirus test or undergo quarantine. Behind the decision is a decrease in detected virus cases.
"The government has completely lifted the nationwide quarantine, the rate of spread of the virus has slowed, and Nepal is set to start vaccinating this week," Khumbu region chief Binod Bhattarai told The Kathmandu Post. "Based on these premises, we decided that we must lift the requirement of a negative coronavirus test in Khumbu and the Everest area," he added.
Until now, tourists without a negative test result had to undergo a two-week quarantine, paying PLN 4,000. rupees (about PLN 125) per day in a state-run center. Bhattarai stipulated that tourists with symptoms of Covid-19 will be tested for coronavirus at the hospital in Lukla, where planes from Kathmandu land. The test is to cost 1500 rupees (about PLN 47).
"The number of detected cases is actually declining, but rather due to the low number of tests performed," says an epidemiologist at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Diseases Hospital in Teku, which specializes in the treatment of coronavirus, to PAP. The doctor may be dismissed from the state hospital for talking to the media.
In December 2020, the daily number of detected cases dropped below 1,500, and in January this year below 554. Nepal performs approx. 69,000 tests per 1 million inhabitants, while Great Britain 987 thousand, USA 900 thousand, and Poland 220 thousand. "When we stop testing, the statistics will also drop to zero," the doctor ironizes.
In his opinion, Nepalese people stopped testing themselves after the government introduced fees for tests and treatment in state hospitals. "The decision has been reversed, but hospitals still charge," says Rabindra Shrestha, a Kathmandu city official dealing with the epidemic.
Nepal will start vaccination against the coronavirus on Wednesday. "We received vaccines as a gift from India, but there are only 1 million of them. It is enough for only some health care workers, so it will not change much" - says Dr. Ajay Thapa from Grande Hospital in Kathmandu.
"The Khumbu authorities are desperate because there are no foreign tourists in the Everest area, and Nepalese tourists have not filled this gap" - explains Pasang Lama, mountain guide and owner of a tourist agency from Namche Bazar. "Most of the people in Khumbu feel that (lifting the requirements) is a good decision. People have been unemployed since March last year." - he adds. The tourism industry employs about 1 million Nepalese people.
According to Lama, easier access to Khumbu will encourage foreign tourists. "People must have time to plan their vacations. If visas at the airport are still restored, we will have tourists" - he believes.
Currently, tourist visas can be obtained at diplomatic missions in Nepal after presenting a negative test result for the coronavirus and insurance against Covid-19 for the amount of 5,000. USD. The second option to enter Nepal is a visa at the Kathmandu airport, issued on the basis of a permit from the Ministry of Tourism. "Such a document must be obtained through a travel agency. However, it is a bit complicated" - says Raj Gurung, owner of a travel agency from Kathmandu.
"At the consulate in Lisbon, I had to show the latest regulations issued by the office in Kathmandu and published on the website because the consulate still used the old regulations!" - tells PAP Matt Norley, who visited Nepal in January on a tourist visa. Foreign tourists must undergo a weekly quarantine at the hotel.
"People on the streets in Kathmandu are acting as if there is no epidemic," notes Matt, describing the crowded bazaars in the city. "We just learn to live with the virus and here it is another disease that must be reckoned with. But especially in the mountains it is safe, as long as tourists and guides are careful," argues Pasang Lama.
From Kathmandu, Paweł Skawiński (PAP)