It has been a wild and turbulent 24 hours when it comes to news surrounding the coronavirus. Yesterday, not only did the WHO declare the virus a pandemic, American president Donald Trump issued a travel ban fro most of Europe coming to the U.S. On top of that, the NBA suspended the rest of its regular season after a player tested positive, while screen legend Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson have announced that they have contracted the virus as well. If that wasn’t enough, lost in all of the shuffle, it has been announced that China will close Mt. Everest from the North Side, effectively shutting down all expeditions heading to Tibet this spring.
We’ve already been hearing rumbling that the closure of the North Side was possible for a few weeks now, but yesterday it was made official. Expedition operators were informed by members of the China-Tibet Mountaineering Association of this announcement last night with some already adjusting their plans. According to Alan Arnette, Adrian Ballinger’s Alpenglow Expeditions will cancel all expedition plans for the 2020 spring season, while Furtenbach Adventures will look to make the jump to the South Side in Nepal, which as of this writing remains open.
This isn’t the first time that China has elected to shut down Everest for the spring climbing season, but in the past it has been for political reasons. In 2008, the mountain was closed so that an expedition could carry the Olympic torch to the summit, while other closures have centered around avoiding protests within Tibet. This time, it is health related and considering the quickly spreading coronavirus activity at the moment, it is probably a good idea.
Considering the reliance of Nepal’s economy on mountaineering and trekking tourism, it seems unlikely that it will follow suit and close down the mountain as well. That said, the country has stopped issuing on-arrival visas for a number of nations where the coronavirus has become prevalent, including China and Italy. Apparently, officials in Nepal will also be requiring a 14-day travel history for anyone seeking a climbing permit. The Ministry of Tourism says that it will reject all permit requests for climbers coming from locations where the virus is already been confirmed in the past two weeks. That’s a lot of countries and would include the U.S., Canada, and most of Europe.
Whether or not Nepal will actually enforce these rules remains to be seen, but the government there is bracing itself for fewer climbers and trekkers this year. 2020 was suppose to be a major coming out part for the Himalayan nation, which launched a big promotion to lure travelers to its borders. Now, those efforts seem doomed as most travel plans have been scrapped or banned.
This is a still evolving story, so I’m sure we’ll hear more about it in the days ahead.