An expedition to conquer Everest in 2019 (archives) - Rizza Alee / AP / SIPA
Nepal has reopened access to its mountain ranges, and in particular to Everest, for autumn expeditions in the hope of reviving its tourism sector hard hit by the coronavirus crisis, authorities announced on Friday, despite uncertainties linked to Covid-19. Nepal had closed its borders in March just before the peak tourist season, during which thousands of hikers and climbers normally travel to the Himalayas.
This pandemic-driven decision cost the Nepalese economy millions of dollars, and deprived many Nepalese of their jobs. The national lockdown was lifted last week and Nepal is now open "for tourist activities, including mountaineering and hiking," said Mira Acharya, Nepal's tourism ministry. However, international flights to Nepal will not resume until August 17.
20,000 cases in Nepal
The “reopening” of the Nepalese mountains comes as the country has again recorded more than a thousand cases of coronavirus this week, for a total of 19,547 since the start of the epidemic. The authorities continue to "work" on health security protocols, said Mira Acharya, and in particular the length of the quarantine that tourists will have to observe when they arrive. This is one of the main concerns of foreigners looking to return to Nepal, said Mingma Sherpa, of Seven Summit Treks, one of the country's largest expedition organizers.
Tents sprout like mushrooms at the foot of Everest and other iconic peaks during climbing seasons. Mountaineers and support teams living in close proximity to the expeditions. Because of the altitude breathing is much more complicated in these massifs, which would aggravate the medical risks for any climber in the event of an epidemic.
More difficult climbs in autumn
Nepal welcomed 1.2 million visitors last year, around a third of whom came during the fall tourist season, according to official figures. Experts explain that the climbs made from September to November are much more difficult than those in spring, due to the winds and lower temperatures. There are far fewer attempts to climb the highest peaks there than in the spring.
In spring 2019, Everest had a record year with 885 people at the top, including 644 from the Nepalese side. The images of traffic jams of mountaineers in the “death zone” on its ridge line had been around the world. China has also closed its access to the roof of the world this year.
Beyond the sherpas, the absence of foreign visitors affects the entire Nepalese economy. Tourism represents 8% of the GDP of this poor South Asian country and generates more than a million jobs there, according to figures from the World Travel and Tourism Council. Slowly recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2015, Nepal hoped to attract the record figure of two million foreign tourists in 2020. An ambition now shelved.
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- Covid 19