Despite sharing borders with China and India, two with the highest cases of COVID-19 deaths, Nepal experienced the least dreadful pandemic. With less than 16,000 confirmed cases and over 6,000 people already recovered, the country is making a strong comeback. The economy of the country, which stalled for three long months, has finally resumed.
COVID-19 Cases in Nepal
COVID-19 or Coronavirus Disease 2019 began at a wet market in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Within a month, the virus spread across the border to other countries. Nepal saw the first case of the novel coronavirus in January 2020, when a 31-year-old Nepali student returned from China. The Government of Nepal declared a nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020. It eventually ended on 14 June 2020. However, many restrictions are still in place regarding the movement of people. Nepal recorded the total confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 14,000 people until the end of June 2020.
According to CovidNepal.org, over 255,500 people got tested, where over 15,500 people confirmed COVID-19 positive. Over 6,500 people have recovered, while 35 others have died because of the infection. Compared to the global COVID stat, Nepal is one of the countries with the least number of infected people.
The health officials in Nepal rely on Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDT) and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) methods to test active Coronavirus cases. Many quarantine centers and health-centers got set up throughout the country to facilitate easy management of the pandemic.
State of Lockdown
Upon the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic around the world, the Nepal Government decided to implement a staunch lockdown throughout the country on 24 March 2020. The international border closed down to stop any movement of people going in and out from Nepal. However, the import of essential goods, including medical kits, entered through the border.
After three months of strict lockdown, the government decided to allow businesses, private vehicles (on the odd/even basis), and open shops. According to the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation, the tourism sector has faced a US $300 million loss during the lockdown.
Closure of International Border
International borders along with the southern Terai belts and Himalayan frontiers closed down following the lockdown announcement on 24 March 2020. The closure of international borders is still in effect until the next move of the Nepalese government. The northern border sharing with Tibet Autonomous Region of China remained opened only to allow the entry of essential goods, medical kit, and equipment. Following the proper measure from India and Nepal, the international border will open once the pandemic is completely over.
International and Domestic Flights
Both the international and domestic flights were grounded following the nationwide lockdown on 24 March 2020. The government decided to cancel international flights to prevent any chances of infected people flying into the country.
Over 5,000 international tourists were still stranded inside the country. Most of them flew out to their home country by organizing a chartered plane. Few tourists decided to stay in Nepal despite the lockdown because they felt it is safer here than their home country.
Tourist Activity in Nepal
Before the lockdown came into effect in late March, many tourists were already traveling to different parts of the country. Many tourists were inside the capital, while others were still trekking in the popular trek trails when the lockdown began. While few chose to stay in Nepal, others flew back to their country in a chartered flight. Since the lockdown, tourism activity has come to zero.
Every travel and tour agency closed down their office and had their employees on indefinite leave. Hotels decided to shut their doors in fear of the pandemic. The pandemic halted every tourist activity inside the country. Thamel, the popular tourist hub, closed down for over three months, only to open after the government decided to lift the ban on restaurants and diners. While international tourists’ inflow is zero, domestic tourists are also staying put because of the ban on traveling outside their district. The tourism industry, along with the government, is deciding to open the country for tourism in a safe manner when the pandemic dies down around the world.
Stranded Tourists in Nepal; many left while few chose to stay in the country
Over 5,000 international tourists were traveling in different parts of the country when the lockdown came into effect. Many tourists were here to enjoy the popular outdoor activity, trekking. When the pandemic hit hard, and the lockdown came in effect, many tourists enjoyed trekking in the popular trek trails of Annapurna Base Camp, Langtang National Park, and Everest Base Camp. Those who decided to leave the country were immediately sent transportation to get back to Kathmandu to catch their final flight back home. Those who couldn’t make it stayed in Nepal for a while until their respective embassies organized chartered flights.
Many tourists decided to stay in Nepal as flying back to their country, such as the USA, Italy, and other hard-hit countries were riskier. Since then, many tourists have been enjoying their stay in different parts of the country while experiencing a remote culture, cuisine, and lifestyle. They decided to head back home once the international flight resumes. Like many locals, those tourists are hopeful that the pandemic will soon die down, and the international flights will resume with proper precautions in place. Until then, the government and local authorities are doing everything to keep the tourists safe and happy. Local homestays and restaurants are charging less or none for their indefinite stay.
The nation is hopeful that the pandemic will die down by the end of 2020, and the tourism activity will resume with grandeur in spring 2021.
Dream Now, Visit Later!
Nepal will soon open for both Domestic and International Tourists.
An article in Nepali Times dated 20 April reported that,
“2020 is not our year. It isn’t anyone’s year […] There are at least 1 million Nepalis that depend on tourism, and the sector makes up nearly 8% of the GDP. The hardest hits are porters and guides who depend on seasonal income during the spring and autumn seasons.”
The lack of tourism activity in the country has already incurred a loss of $300 million. Hence, the government and private tourism agencies are preparing to realign their marketing to bring in tourists once the pandemic is over immediately.
Many trekking agencies are in high hope that international tourists will come back to Nepal immediately after the international flights are operational. They believe that once the pandemic dies, people will be willing to travel to Nepal, the country that saw the least amount of infection or death from the pandemic.
The country is preparing to organize tourist activities while ensuring safety precautions such as social distancing in flights and tourist buses, separate sittings in the restaurants and diners, take-away options at almost every eatery, and other safe travel practices. This ensures that the country will be safe to travel despite the fact that the infection is bleakly present in different parts of the world. Like many European countries, Nepal has decided to open its borders to the tourists once the looming fear of the pandemic is over. Every travel agency, hotel, and restaurant is willing to bring safety and hygiene to ensure that visiting tourists are safe inside the country.
The Future of Tourism in Nepal
Although Nepal planned to bring over 2 million tourists in the year 2020 throughout the ambitious tourism campaign “Visit Nepal 2020,” the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on the campaign. Eyeing 2021 as a potential tourism year, Nepal has decided to refurbish its existing infrastructure to facilitate a safe travel experience. Keeping the safety and precaution of tourists in mind, the tourism industry, in general, will practice social distancing, sanitation, and other safety practices.
The last three months saw a decline in the movement of motor vehicles, airplanes, and an immediate halt in factory productions. This has helped to clear the environment. Tourists visiting Nepal once the pandemic is over will experience a cleaner country. The mountainous destinations will offer a better view of the snow-clad mountains, pristine forested hills, and crystal clear rivers. The hotels, restaurants, resorts, and modes of transportation will follow safety guidelines to ensure a safe travel experience.
To ensure social distancing while traveling, the bookings for private tours and trekking will surge among tourists. Those planning to travel in a group will likely come either by themselves or in a smaller group. Overall, the inflow of tourists in the country will help to regenerate local employment opportunities. Many tourist destinations, hotels, modes of transportation, and skilled workers like guides and porters will find a reliable source of income.
Nepal and the tourism industry are hopeful that the travel scene throughout the world will resume once the pandemic dies down or when its effects are negligible.