Weekly Summary

 Week of June 4-14

This week, we are featuring DanChurchAid’s weekly report on the COVID-19 situation in Nepal (posted on ReliefWeb), and also an enterprising Nepali volunteer site dedicated to immediate local relief efforts.

DanChurchAid: https://reliefweb.int/report/nepal/nepal-covid-19-response-situation-report-no-04-8-june-2021 

Highlights: 

Covid-19 restrictions have been extended until June 14, with grocery, meat, and cooking gas vendors open until 9:00 am. 

For all passengers arriving by air in Nepal, the Civil Aviation Authority now requires: 

  • A medical certificate showing a negative RT-PCR result, issued within 72 hours before the flight;

  • Confirmation of ten days’ hotel reservation (for quarantine); 

  • RT-PCR tests must be repeated on the 4th and 11th day after arrival.

10 to 12 cases of black fungus (mucormycosis) have been reported in hospital settings in Kathmandu, Birgunj and Nepalgunj.

And for those in Nepal, especially, here is a primarily Nepali volunteer-run platform initiated to connect assistance providers and seekers, and publish credible data and information about the Covid-19 situation in Nepal: https://covidconnectnp.org/ 

 Week of May 24-31, 2021 

Over the past week, Nepal has benefitted from the delivery and provision of supplies of oxygen, oxygen concentrators, ventilators and other supllies, but the background drumbeat has concerned the unfortunate shortage of vaccines. Numerous volunteer, non-profit and governmental organizations have been petitioning and rallying international sources for vaccines, as summarized in these pieces from academics and the press:

New York Times article, on the spread of COVID-19 via returning migrant laborers:
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/30/world/asia/nepal-covid19-migrants.html

A well-informed summary, and plea, in the Nepali Times by Oxford researcher Dr. Michael Pollard:
https://www.nepalitimes.com/opinion/im-sad-vaccines-are-delayed-in-nepal/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=epaper

A widely-circulated appeal from respected academics in the medical and social sciences:
https://theconversation.com/with-covid-19-cases-surging-nepal-asks-global-community-for-urgent-vaccine-help-161333

And an update on the scene at Mt. Everest, from Outside Online:
https://www.outsideonline.com/2424234/coronavirus-nepal-everest?fbclid=IwAR3tpKEfOE2CXeXr1iQucM0uvhHoxTsmgo8hn2mFKcSxRyjzPUY0exBA4xA

For information grass roots mobilizing for the delivery of vaccines, please visit the Vaccines4Nepal Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/vaccines4nepal

 Week of May 17-24, 2021 

Key events during the week of 17-24 May 2021 include the following:

·         The United States, the EU, Australia, China, Singapore are all flying in emergency supplies to help Nepal battle a fierce Covid-19 second wave, but noticeably lacking were much needed vaccines. Nepalis took to cybresphere to thank the United States and Europe for announcing help with oxygen concentrators and PPEs this week, but said what Nepal really needs is vaccines after India banned the export of its AstraZeneca Covishield vaccines.

·         More than 170 climbers reached the summit of Everest on Sunday and another 100 or so are hoping to climb the mountain on Monday. “The second window of good weather opened on Sunday and more than 170 climbers reached the summit. We are expecting another 100 successful climbs on Monday,” said Mira Acharya, director of the Department of Tourism.

·          However, an expert climbing guide said on Saturday, 22 May 2021, that a coronavirus outbreak on Mount Everest has infected at least 100 climbers and support staff, giving the first comprehensive estimate amid official Nepalese denials of a COVID-19 cluster on the world's highest peak.

·         The United Nations on Friday, 21 May 2021, launched the Nepal Covid-19 Response Plan calling for a financial support of Rs9.7 billion ($ 83.7 million) to mobilise an emergency response over the next three months to assist 750,000 of the most vulnerable Nepalis affected by the pandemic.

·         On 10 May, 2021 the US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs classified Nepal as the Level 4, “Do Not Travel Because of COVID” Advisory Level.

Those of us not in Nepal continue to hope and pray that vaccines sufficient to treat the entire country will arrive soon; that all Nepalis and other people in Nepal stay safe and practice safety protocols; and that the much needed revenue from the tourism industry begins to flow again by the fall of 2021.

 Week of May 10-17, 2021 

Unfortunately, in what is likely a necessary measure in light of the spike of COVID cases in Nepal, the lockdown in Kathmandu continues, with residents and visitors allowed out in public only from 7-9 am. For details, out new pages on "Articles and Links," which now include (a) COVID-19 hotlines and information sources in Nepal, (b) "How you can help," a list of organizations in Nepal working on relief efforts. (They could use your donations!) See especially Peter Gill’s excellent article summarizing relief efforts and vaccine procurement.
Only 1-2% of Nepalis have been fully vaccinated, as of this week; many are awaiting their second doses. Paradoxically, those who are lucky enough to have arrived in Nepal fully vaccinated and were able to trek (or fly, before domestic flights were cancelled) into remote areas have been able to trek with some degree of apparent safety, and encounter mostly empty lodges and trails.
Here’s a partial recap of COVID-related news from this week on and near Mt. Everest:

— The Everest expedition season on the north (China/Tibet) side of the border has been cancelled, and all climbers have returned to base camp and points lower.

— The numbers of people infected with COVID-19 at Everest base camp increased significantly, leading Lukas Furtenbach, Managing Director of Furtenbach Adventures, to cancel his expedition. "With some teams, elementary precautionary measures were simply not observed,” he reported. “To climb above base camp with these massively increasing corona numbers and risk the lives of our 20 customers, 4 mountain guides and 27 Sherpas carelessly, would be irresponsible."

— For one perspective on trekking in Khumbu as the COVID-19 surge set in throughout the Kathmandu Valley, veteran mountaineer and photographer James Brady updated us about his and Dr. Ken Zafran's trek through Khumbu. They returned to the capital city on May 13, and were able to secure a seat on a Qatar charter flight to the United States.

  • "...Overall, the trip in Khumbu went quite well,” James reported. “The unusually late/cold spring probably had a bigger impact on out trek than did COVID. At least we could manage the COVID issues by masking and social distancing, staying outside, and choosing lodges and dining rooms with a lot of space. Only in a few instances were we in groups large enough to make us uncomfortable. We saw few rhododendrons in bloom except on the trek to Thame, where they were spectacular in some places. Manshan, our guide is an excellent birder, and he enhanced bird and other wildlife sightings. We saw several groups of tahr, but only one sighting of musk deer...."

Let’s hope, especially on behalf of those Nepalis who are dependent on income from trek-tourism, that the COVID situation will improve by the fall trekking season.

Week of 2-9 May, 2021

Prime Minister Oli has appealed to the international community to help Nepal by sending vaccines, diagnostic tools, oxygen kits, critical care medicines and equipment, to support the country’s efforts to save lives. Kunda Dixit of The Nepali Times reports that there were 139 COVID-related deaths yesterday (10 May 2021) and twice the number the day before. Everest was successfully summited by Sherpa teams, but conditions at basecamp remain of concern. International visitors are being urged to stay at home, at least until the situation improves.

Please see “Articles and Links” for more further information, as well as last week’s podcast interview with trek leader Kim Bannister, who is recovering from COVID-19 in Kathmandu.

Week of 10-16 May, 2021

This week we include not only the latest press releases, interviews, and podcasts from Nepal, but also new “COVID-19 Hotline” and “How You Can Help” sections under the “RESOURCES” section.

Week of 24-30 April, 2021

Concerns continued to grow about the rising number of COVID cases in India and Nepal. The US State Department’s “Nepal Travel Advisory” urged travelers to “reconsider travel to Nepal due to COVID-19. Mt. Everest was in the news because of the increase in COVID-19 cases at base camp, and evacuation of climbers to Kathmandu.

Please see “Articles and Links” for more detail, as well as the excellent podcast interview with trek leader Kim Bannister who is recovering from COVID-19 in Kathmandu.

Week of 18-24 April, 2021

Concerns continued to grow about the rising number of COVID cases in India and Nepal. The US State Department’s “Nepal Travel Advisory” urged travelers to “reconsider travel to Nepal due to COVID-19. Exercise increased caution in Nepal due to the potential for isolated political violence.” The “Nepal Travel Advisory” also reported that the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Health Notice for Nepal due to COVID-19, indicating a high level of COVID-19 in the country” (visit the links in “Nepal Travel Reports” for the most current information related to recommended travel and COVID-19). At least three of our American friends living in Kathmandu came down with COVID last week—two share their stories below, and the third will be posted later this week. These first-hand accounts contain extremely valuable recommendations for maximizing one’s safety during international travel as well as living abroad, which we expect to be relevant for the foreseeable future:

25 April 2021—Linda Kentro and James Giambrone, who have lived in Nepal for decades, contracted COVID-19 recently -- they are recovering well, thankfully -- and have kindly shared their account of traveling from Nepal to the U.S. They departed KTM on March 28, which may have been around the time they were infected. PLEASE SEE FAQ FOR LINDA’S DETAILED REPORT!

UPDATE (21APRIL 2021): LINK TO NEW YOUTUBE VIDEO ON SAFE MOUNTAIN TOURISM AND TREKKING IN SAGARMATHA (EVEREST) NATIONAL PARK AND BUFFER ZONE, NEPAL BY HIMALAYAN QUESTS IS FEATURED ON “ARTICLES AND LINKS”

Week of 11-17 April, 2021

UPDATE (19 APRIL 2021): PLEASE SEE “FAQ” FOR JAMES BRADY’S 19 APRIL 2021 NOTES REGARDING HIS EXPERIENCES TRAVELING FROM THE US TO KATHMANDU ON 18 APRIL 2021, AND FROM KATHMANDU TO LUKLA ON 19 APRIL 2021.

(Week of 11-17 April, 2021): This was a rather gloomy week, with press releases warning of a second surge of COVID-19 linked to the lack of safety precautions being practiced during recent festivals. An increase in coronavirus cases in India has also sparked fears of a wider spread of the virus in Nepal (“Articles and Links”)

On a brighter note, our traveling correspondents, Dr. Ken Zafren and James Brady landed safely in Kathmandu this morning (18 April, 2021) and report that their entry into Nepal went relatively smoothly. “All went well getting through the COVID screening at the airport,” wrote James Brady this evening  “There was a table set up in the entryway to the Airport beyond a “Sanitation Tunnel” (that almost no one went through, as I don’t think that it was operable).  At the table they took the bar coded “international arrival” form which we had previously filled out on-line, and looked at the printout of our most recent PCR test, then waved us through. Social distancing was pretty marginal, as was mask-wearing adherence.  Almost everyone had a mask visible, most were wearing them properly, but several tourists wore them with their nostrils showing or dropped under their chins.  No one asked to see our vaccination record. Ken’s friend [Dr.} Buddha [Basynet], an ICU Doctor here, told us this evening that COVID cases are on the rise. We had a PCR test administered at the hotel, but I don’t think we’ll see results before we depart for Lukla [tomorrow morning, 19 April 2021].”

Ken and James will next report about the experience of traveling from their hotel in Kathmandu to Tribhuvan Airport, the flight to Lukla on national carriers, and the trek from Lukla to Namche Bazaar, gateway to the Everest basecamp and the rest of Khumbu.

In addition, they have also promised to provide more detail about their flight from Seattel to Doha; overnight at Doha Airport in an airport “pod;” and arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport. Thanks for the information, and safe travels, Ken and James!

Week of 4-11 April, 2021

  • A coronavirus surge in India is believed to have increased the risk of spread of the virus to Nepal (see Articles and Links)

  • Forest fires throughout Nepal and India have resulted in major air pollution problems as well as obscured views of the Himalayas (see Articles and Links)

  • New firsthand travel and trekking information forthcoming: Project partners Dr. Ken Zafren (a former physician at the Himalayan Rescue Association’s (HRA) clinic in Pheriche, and the Associate Medical Director of the HRA since 1993) and photographer James Brady will be departing for Nepal on 18 April, 2021. They will be sharing their experiences with Safe Nepal Travel as they travel internationally, go through Customs, take the required PCR test, and check into their hotel. While in Khumbu they will be interviewing lodge owners and others involved in the adventure tourism trade for the latest information related to COVID, trekking conditions in Khumbu, and related matters. Thanks in advance to Ken and James for providing this important “from the field” information!

Week of 4 -11 April, 2021

  •  

    This was a rather gloomy week, with press releases warning of a second surge of COVID-19 linked to the lack of safety precautions being practiced during recent festivals. An increase in coronavirus cases in India has also sparked fears of a wider spread of the virus in Nepal.

    On a brighter note, our traveling correspondents, Dr. Ken Zafren and James Brady landed safely in Kathmandu this morning (18 April, 2021) and report that their entry into Nepal went relatively smoothly. “All went well getting through the COVID screening at the airport,” wrote James Brady this evening  “There was a table set up in the entryway to the Airport beyond a “Sanitation Tunnel” (that almost no one went through, as I don’t think that it was operable).  At the table they took the bar coded “international arrival” form which we had previously filled out on-line, and looked at the printout of our most recent PCR test, then waved us through. Social distancing was pretty marginal, as was mask-wearing adherence.  Almost everyone had a mask visible, most were wearing them properly, but several tourists wore them with their nostrils showing or dropped under their chins.  No one asked to see our vaccination record. Ken’s friend [Dr.} Buddha [Basynet], an ICU Doctor here, told us this evening that COVID cases are on the rise. We had a PCR test administered at the hotel, but I don’t think we’ll see results before we depart for Lukla [tomorrow morning, 19 April 2021].

    Ken and James will next report about the experience of traveling from their hotel in Kathmandu to Tribhuvan Airport, the flight to Lukla on national carriers, and the trek from Lukla to Namche Bazaar, gateway to the Everest basecamp and the rest of Khumbu.

    In addition, they have also promised to provide more detail about their flight from Seattel to Doha; overnight at Doha Airport in an airport “pod;” and arrival at Tribhuvan International Airport.

Week of 28 March - 4 April, 2021

This was an eventful week in terms of new developments related to the return of adventure tourism to Nepal. The Government of Nepal announced that fully vaccinated visitors to Nepal will no longer be required to quarantine, although they must still submit a negative PCR result fro a test conducted within 72 hours of their departure, and a second test at their own expense after arriving in Nepal. According to the Nepal Tourism Board (4 April, 2021 email), trekkers must coordinate with a Nepali trekking agency who will provide a clearance letter (called a “recommendation letter” in the press releases) issued by the Nepal Tourism Board and Department of Tourism. Other upon-arrival visa documents required include (a) copy of passport, (b) international air ticket booking confirmation, and (c) travel insurance. Visitors can otherwise obtain their visas from the Nepali Embassies within their countries, although there were complaints that the Embassies were not answering their phones for visitors with questions. Everest climbers are returning for the spring season, but there are reports of delays encountered when porters become ill and are required to quarantine. The CDC announced that fully vaccinated people can resume travel at low risk to themselves, although non-essential travel is still discouraged because of the recent surge in COVID and variant cases.

New Podcast: Check out the new podcast (31 March, 2021) on current trekking conditions in Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park. PI Alton C. Byers interviews Tommy Gustafsson, Director of Sagarmatha Next, Namche Bazaar, on the numbers of trekkers and climbers arriving daily, how many lodges are open, and what local lodge owners are expecting in terms of the return of post-COVID-19 tourism numbers.

New U.S. Embassy in Nepal COVID-10 Information guidelines(1 April 2021) covering updated Nepal-specific information, COVID-10 testing, entry and exit requirements, movement restrictions, quarantine information, transportation options, fines for non-mask compliance, Consular operations, local resources, and other travel related links are available at https://np.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information-2/

New (2 April 2021): Tourist Arrival Management Protocol by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation, covering processes required before entering Nepal, entry into Nepal, required documents, after arrival in Nepal, special provisions for Indian tourists, and other provisions is now available. View PDF Document

New (2 April 2021): Fully vaccinated people can resume travel at low risk to themselves, new CDC guidance says: see: https://www.cnn.com/2021/04/02/health/cdc-travel-guidance-fully-vaccinated-wellness/index.html


Week of 22 March, 2021

Entry: On Thursday, 26 March, 2021, Nepal announced new travel regulations removing the quarantine requirements for foreign tourists who have received full doses of Covid-19 vaccine. Vaccinated tourists must still undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours prior to departure from the country of origin. Upon arrival in Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), they must show proof of a negative PCR test along with documents documenting administration of the full dosage of anti-coronavirus vaccines. After arrival in Nepal, visitors must conduct another PCR test at their own cost, and quarantine at their hotel until a second negative PCR result is obtained. This reduces the quarantine time from 10 days to as little as 1.

The mandatory provision of $5000.00 evacuation insurance has been removed. However, proof of having insurance “sufficient to cover emergency evacuation costs” is in effect.

Tourists should continue to obtain their entry visas at the Nepali embassies and diplomatic missions in their respective countries.

However, tourists from countries without a Nepali embassy or mission are allowed to apply for on-arrival visas at TIA. Required documents include (a) PCR negative report that has been taken 72 hours prior to their departure, (b) documents proving that they have been fully vaccinated, (c) a copy of a recommendation letter issued by the Nepal Tourism Board and Department of Tourism, (d) proof of hotel booking in Nepal, and (e) and travel insurance covering emergency search and rescue and treatment throughout their travel in Nepal.

Trekking and Climbing: Our contact in Namche Bazaar, Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest) National Park, reports that about 50 to 70 trekkers are now arriving per day (as opposed to the usual 500 per day during pre-COVID times). Half of these visitors are foreigners and half are Nepali. Lodge owners are feeling more optimistic and beginning to open more and more lodges and restaurants. Approximately 300 foreign climbers are expected this season, down from 800 in previous years.

CDC Travel Recommendations: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Nepal remains in a Level 3: High Level of COVID-19 status https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/covid-3/coronavirus-nepal . Non-essential travel to Nepal continues to be discouraged.