KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Nepal will reopen its Himalayan mountains including Mount Everest to climbers for the autumn season, officials said on Thursday, to boost the tourism-dependent economy despite rising coronavirus infections.
Home to eight of the world’s 14 tallest mountains, Nepal shut down climbing and trekking in March to stem the novel coronavirus, which has so far infected 19,547 people and caused 52 deaths in the country of 30 million.
“We have reopened mountaineering and will issue climbing permits for the autumn season,” tourism department official Mira Acharya said, adding that climbers must follow health protocols issued by the government. The autumn climbing season in Nepal runs from September to November.
While infections in many Western nations are falling, South Asian countries including Nepal are still witnessing a steady rise in the caseload.
The absence of climbing in the popular April-May season caused Nepal millions of dollars in losses. Hundreds of foreign travellers and some 200,000 sherpas, guides and porters were hit.
Though the government now wants to reopen climbing, international flights are shut until mid-August and travel restrictions within Nepal remain, meaning climbers will still be kept away in the short term, expedition organisers said.
“Some climbers to smaller mountains may come but I have doubts about big ones,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, an expedition organiser in the capital Kathmandu.
Nepal on Thursday also allowed the reopening of hotels and restaurants with some restrictions. No conferences, seminars, gyms or casinos would be allowed, said Binayak Shah, vice president of the Hotel Association Nepal (HAN).
“Now it is (about) which hotel is safe, not which offers better services,” Shah said.
Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Zeba Siddiqui and Andrew Cawthorne