Nepal to allow evacuation of foreign tourists stranded due to COVID-19

Kathmandu, Mar. 26 (efe-epa).- Nepal on Thursday decided to allow foreign embassies to organize evacuations of foreign citizens stranded in the capital and various trekking routes due to a nationwide lockdown to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

After a high-level COVID-19 control committee headed by deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel cleared the evacuations, authorities informed of various transport measures being planned by different countries.

“We have been informed that the German embassy has decided to charter two Qatar Airways ferry flights from Doha to take its nationals out on Friday and Saturday,” Sudhan Subedi, an officer at the Nepal Tourism Board, told EFE.

He said that the US, French, British and Australian embassies were also planning to bring special charter flights to evacuate their citizens.

Having already suspending on-arrival visas and flights from specific regions earlier, on Mar. 20 Nepal had canceled all fights to and from the country as the COVID-19 pandemic intensified across the world.

The US embassy in Nepal said on its website that it had formally requested Nepal government to facilitate the departure of US citizens and was exploring flight options that will depart from Kathmandu once the permission is granted.

The measure comes a day after reports that around 300 foreigners had been stranded along various trekking routes due to strict quarantine measures, with traffic closures preventing the trekkers from returning to the capital.

Khum Bahadur Subedi, president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal, had told EFE that about 98 trekkers were stuck in the Everest region, 50 in and around Jomsom, 30 in the Annapurna region (all in the center-north) and 19 in the eastern district of Sankhuwasabha.

Around 18 trekkers were reported stranded in the Bob Marley Hotel in Muktinath, near Jomsom.

“These foreigners had obtained trekking permits long before the government prohibited movement across the country,” Khum Bahadur said, adding that most of these tourists were from Europe, particularly France, Germany and Spain.

He said that 70 such tourists had been evacuated to the capital on Wednesday and arrangements were being made with the respective embassies to transport or airlift the rest.

Bal Krishna Pandit, the operation manager of Air Dynasty helicopters, told EFE that they had rescued four trekkers from the Everest region and another four from Dolpa on Wednesday. Other helicopter operators were also carrying out rescue and evacuation measures.

The government had stopped issuing trekking permits on Mar. 20 as preliminary measures to control the flow of tourists after canceling all spring climbing expeditions including Mt. Everest on Mar. 12.

The authorities issued stay-at-home orders and closed schools, offices and markets on Tuesday, a day after a second case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the country. On Wednesday a third case was reported when a 32-year-old man who had recently returned from the United Arab Emirates tested positive.

Nepal receives nearly 1.2 million tourists annually and around 300,000 of them travel to different trekking areas, with the most popular trail being the Annapurna circuit, followed by the Everest region. EFE-EPA


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