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Thousands of tourists stranded as Nepal extends flight ban amid Covid surge

By Sangam Prasain y Moncho Torres

Kathmandu/New Delhi, May 12 (EFE).- Thousands of foreign tourists have been left stranded in Nepal after authorities decided to extend the ban on international flights to May 31 as the country struggles to deal with a serious Covid surge.

Nepal had suspended all international flights from May 7 to 14, and the measure was on Tuesday extended to the end of the month, except for an air-bubble arrangement between Kathmandu and New Delhi with two weekly flights.

The decision has clashed with the travel plans of many foreigners, who had expected to fly back once the original ban was lifted.

Nepali authorities are considering the possibility of allowing special repatriation flights, the joint secretary at the tourism ministry, Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, told EFE.

“We are yet to come to a conclusion,” he said.

The Nepal Tourism Board has estimated that around 2,000 foreigners are currently in Kathmandu awaiting flight arrangements, while another 5,000 tourists are in the mountains.

“More trekkers and mountaineers will be arriving in Kathmandu from various remote mountain regions next week as the trekking and mountaineering season is coming to an end,” said Shradha Shrestha, the manager at the Board.

According to the body, the foreigners include 1,437 Europeans who arrived in the country between Jan. 1 and May 5.

Over 40 Spaniards have contacted the Spanish embassy in New Delhi and the consulate in Nepal and sought help, and the mission was exploring possibilities of their evacuation, ot told EFE.

Sebastian Alvaro, an adventurer and the director of a TV-program, told EFE that he arrived in Nepal on Apr. 22 with a large team for trekking and filming, but they had suspended their plans and were now looking to go back as the pandemic situation was expected to worsen.

The Covid situation in Nepal has deteriorated rapidly in recent weeks, with the country registering record daily caseloads almost every day.

On Wednesday the Himalayan nation recorded 9,305 fresh infections – up from around 460 daily cases a month ago – taking the total number of cases to 422,349, according to the health ministry.

The surge and travel restrictions have coincided with the spring Everest climbing season, with a record 408 mountaineers registering to scale the world’s tallest peak, compared to 381 in 2019.

Alvaro criticized the “powerful tourism agencies” in Nepal for pressing ahead with the tourist calendar.

“Giving out the highest ever Everest permits, means that you have gathered thousands of people at the base camp without any kind of control, neither for Covid or anything else,” which had led to many people testing positive, said the Spaniard.

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