Hopes of tourism revival with new travel rules in placeNepal throws away quarantine requirement and resumes on-arrival visas, in a move hailed by entrepreneurs as much-needed respite for the virus-ravaged industry.
Nepal on Thursday threw away the seven-day quarantine requirement and resumed issuing on-arrival visas to all vaccinated foreign travellers in a bid to bring its virus-ravaged tourism industry back to life.
Visitors should have received their last dose of Covid-19 vaccine at least 14 full days prior to entering Nepal. Those who are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated will not get on-arrival visas. They have to get their entry permits from Nepali diplomatic missions, and also spend 10 days in quarantine in government-listed hotels.
A negative RT-PCR or Gene Expert or True NAAT test is required for all to travel to Nepal, according to a new travel protocol issued on Thursday. All travellers need to undergo mandatory antigen or rapid antigen tests at immigration entry points.
The new protocol was issued under the Infectious Disease Act (1964), after the Covid-19 Crisis Management Ordinance (2020), along with around a dozen ordinances, introduced by the government, became ineffective from September 16 when they failed to get through Parliament within the constitutional deadline.
After the Covid-19 Crisis Management Ordinance failed to get parliamentary approval, all legal frameworks related to travel also became invalid.
On Monday, the Cabinet approved the new travel protocol under the old Infectious Disease Act.
“We have approved the removal of the quarantine requirement for all vaccinated travellers arriving in Nepal from all international destinations and updated the travel procedures effective from Thursday, September 23,” Taranath Adhikari, spokesperson for the Tourism Ministry, told the Post. “The measures are expected to boost the country’s tourism industry.”
Before boarding a flight to Nepal, all vaccinated travellers will have to present a negative Covid-19 test result taken 72 hours prior to the departure, and fill up the international travellers’ online form at www.ccmc.gov.np and have a printed copy to apply for on-arrival visa at the airport, according to the travel protocol published by the Tourism Ministry on Thursday.
If they test positive, they will be sent to an isolation centre or hospital recommended by the Health Ministry. According to the new rules, if there is no antigen testing facility at the airport or immigration point, foreigners have to undergo the test at the hotel. They will be allowed to leave the hotel if the test comes back negative.
“Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated tourists have to mandatorily quarantine themselves at the hotel for 10 days at their own expense. On the 11th day, if they test negative, they are free to travel,” according to the new rule.
All expenses for testing for Covid-19, isolation and insurance should be borne by the travellers themselves. Travel and trekking agencies are responsible for enforcing all conditions set by the new rule.
Hotels will be responsible for implementing quarantine and isolation.
If visitors don't abide by the rules, the hotel should inform the police or other agencies concerned, according to the rule.
“Though a delayed decision, it is a huge boost for the country’s tourism industry,” said Khum Bahadur Subedi, president of the Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal. “We expect a partial recovery in arrivals this autumn, the country’s peak tourism season. There are high hopes for a full spring season recovery if there are no threats of a Covid-19 resurgence.”
Travel trade entrepreneurs say that inquiries from potential visitors to Nepal have been massive, and they were eagerly waiting for Nepal’s decision to ease quarantine requirements and visa issuance.
Travel and tourism businesses, which accounted for around 8 percent of the country's gross domestic product and provided more than 1.05 million jobs directly and indirectly in pre-Covid-19 times, were the hardest hit after travel restrictions came into force in late March last year.
Last spring, the government reopened the country to foreign travellers in the hope of lifting the economy and employment by reviving tourism.
Subsequently, Nepal received a record-high number of foreigners aspiring to climb the world’s tallest peak, Mt Everest, as the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to peter out. But fresh Delta outbreaks and slow vaccine rollout again cast a pall on the country's tourism.
After the second Covid-19 wave hit Nepal in April, the country slid into a devastating crisis with the authorities enforcing strict lockdown measures. About two months later, the restrictions were relaxed gradually, and since September 1, almost everything has been allowed to reopen.
Daily coronavirus infections have also fallen sharply from a high of 9,317 on May 11, 2021, to 1,239 on Thursday. Restrictions on businesses have been eased, and encouraging signs of an economic revival are emerging even as concerns persist about renewed outbreaks.
On Wednesday, the Asian Development Bank revised down its forecast for Nepal’s economic growth in the current fiscal year 2021-22 to 4.1 percent from the previous 5.1 percent, largely due to high Covid-19 cases and risks, though reduced now, and slowed growth in tourism and services.
Tourism-dependent Nepal hosted 230,085 foreign tourists in 2020, a drop of more than 80 percent compared to 2019 and a figure similar to that of 1986. As of August, total international arrivals to Nepal had numbered just 66,966 individuals.
According to the new rule, on-arrival visas have been resumed for non-resident Nepalis or foreigners who are married to Nepali citizens too. If they are fully vaccinated, receiving the last dose at least 14 full days prior to the day they enter Nepal, they are allowed to proceed to their respective destinations.
If they are not fully vaccinated or have not had the last dose at least 14 full days prior to the day they enter Nepal, they will be allowed to continue to their respective destinations if their antigen test comes back negative.
According to the rules, people returning to Nepal for mourning rituals following the death of their loved ones will be allowed to go to their destinations if their antigen test comes back negative, based on the recommendation of the local government.
Similarly, persons suffering from having illnesses or disabilities and their carers, are allowed to go to their homes directly if their antigen test comes back negative, based on hospital documents and the recommendation of the local government.
People aged above 75, their carers and children below five and their carers are allowed to go home following a negative antigen test at the airport, based on the recommendation of the local government.
Representatives of diplomatic agencies and their family members have to submit a negative Covid-19 test result taken within 72 hours of departure. The online form at www.ccmc.gov.np for their on-arrival visa is mandatory for them as well.
Those who have secured a visa at Nepal's diplomatic missions abroad have to submit a negative Covid-19 report and fill up the form and submit it at the immigration point. If they don't have Covid-19 symptoms after their arrival in Nepal, they will be allowed to go to their destination.
Official representatives of diplomatic missions in Nepal, if they are not vaccinated, should quarantine themselves for 10 days at a place recommended by their agency.
The government has also opened land entry points for all tourists, including Indian travellers.
Travellers entering Nepal through surface routes have to fill up the arrival form and undergo antigen tests. A negative report will allow them to enter Nepal. Except Indians who do not require visas, other visitors should obtain visas from the Nepali diplomatic mission in their respective countries.
According to the new rules, if the immigration points do not have facilities to conduct antigen tests, they need to do it at the hotel.
Similarly, fully vaccinated foreigners transiting to third countries through Kathmandu’s airport, after a short stay in Nepal, have to submit a negative test report 48 hours prior to their departure.
The rules say that children below five years of age do not require vaccines and tests. For children between five and 18 years of age, vaccination is not mandatory.
Passengers departing from Nepal have to submit a negative Covid-19 test report taken less than 48 hours before departure or as per the rules of the countries they are travelling to.
With cases declining and almost everything opening up, tourism entrepreneurs for quite a while had been mounting pressure on the government to lift the travel ban.
Deepak Raj Joshi, former chief executive officer of Nepal Tourism Board, said the new rules are better late than never.
“Delays in government approval have caused headaches for scores of prospective travellers, who made their plan to visit Nepal in autumn, but had to cancel due to quarantine requirements,” Joshi told the Post. “The government should have made this decision a month earlier. Nonetheless, the decision has been made and this will be a big boost to the tourism industry as it emerges from this pandemic."