A proposed solution can be to open trekking in September, but require vaccine proof. The Nepal government can support the mountain tourist regions, while also protecting their health and honouring their fortitude by implementing a balanced policy that allows trekking for fully vaccinated tourists.
September is the right time to open up. The low trekking season during the monsoon was a natural buffer for the Covid-19 situation to improve both in Nepal and abroad. Now, with the lockdown having stabilised the case load somewhat, the improving conditions can also enable economic recovery.
In the meantime, potential trekkers have been getting vaccinated. In 2019 trekkers mainly came to Nepal from the UK, USA, China, Australia, Germany, France, India, and several other European countries. Global Covid-19 vaccination data shows that European countries and the United States have vaccinated a large proportion of their populations. India and Australia lag behind, but have active vaccination drives.
Clear communication from the government would be essential for this to work. Foreigners need to know the exact rules about vaccine proof, tests and quarantines before they decide to travel, and locals need to know that trekkers will not be allowed to come in and spread disease.
Implementing vaccine proof travel may be easier than we might think. Vaccine passports may be difficult to require for Nepal tourist visas, as previously discussed in Nepali Times. Countries have been slow to roll out formal passports, and barring entry to Nepal for all unvaccinated people could exclude individuals with medical conditions from necessary visits.
Enforcing vaccine proof when granting trekking permits would be much simpler. Vaccine cards already issued by every country, rather than formal vaccine passports, would be good enough for this purpose. The requirement would not exclude anyone from necessary travel since trekking is purely a pleasure activity.
Furthermore, Nepal’s trekking regions already require special permits and there are many checkpoints along the way to verify them. The policy could be as simple as requiring the vaccine proof when giving the trekking permit. The Government would not need to invest in new infrastructure.