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All travelers planning to enter the Mount Everest region are now required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, local officials announced late last month. The new requirement comes after a disastrous spring, when dozens of trekkers on the mountain fell ill with the virus and several expeditions were canceled.
In an August 23 statement, officials said that only fully inoculated travelers will be allowed to enter the Khumbu region of Nepal, where Everest is located. Then, later in the statement, they conceded that unvaccinated people could in fact enter, as long as they provide a negative COVID-19 test. It’s unclear how this will be enforced, and unvaccinated travelers may have trouble finding tests.
“Getting a PCR test in the Khumbu is likely to prove very challenging,” Outside contributor Kraig Becker wrote on The Adventure Blog. Plus, he explains, it doesn’t guarantee safety: travelers could be tested in the window between their exposure and contracting the virus, meaning they’d get negative results and fall ill several days later.
Over the course of the pandemic, Nepal’s government has employed an uneven defense against COVID. It initially tried to downplay the impact of COVID-19 on Everest, even denying the very existence of the virus on the mountain. But it also implemented various travel restrictions, including requiring a negative test upon arrival in the country, a quarantine period, and a second negative test. However, as Outside reported in April, these rules seemed to be solely self-enforced.
Outside’s Everest contributor, Alan Arnette, who runs a summit coaching service in the Khumbu region, worries that the new requirements will suffer the same fate. Anecdotally, he says officials appear to be taking the COVID testing seriously, but he hasn’t heard of anyone having to quarantine because of a positive test. He also hasn’t seen the vaccine requirement enforced in the two weeks since the announcement.
Coronavirus cases in Nepal surged over the last month, as in many parts of the world, due to the Delta variant. So far, Nepal has seen a total of 771,000 COVID cases, with 17 percent of the total population being fully vaccinated. Local officials claim that 98 percent of residents in the Khumbu region over the age of 18 have been fully inoculated.
Guiding companies have developed their own safety protocols. Many outfitters, including U.S.-based outfitters Alpenglow Expeditions and International Mountain Guides and Austria-based Furtenbach Adventures, require staff and clientele to be vaccinated. IMG also canceled its fall season due to the Delta surge.
Lukas Furtenbach, founder of Furtenbach Adventures, expressed concern about how the regional vaccine requirement will be enforced, but he sees it as a step in the right direction, particularly for the regional economy. “Every requirement or safety protocol that is implemented is good and important since it will help the tourism industry,” he says.