Travellers to Nepal now do not need to present previously mandatory PCR-RT test results to be granted entry into the country. The latest regulations released by the Department of Immigration and confirmed by international airlines say arriving passengers only need proof of vaccination.
The provision of hotel quarantine has also been scrapped. Only those unable to present vaccination proof will need a PCR negative result, but the regulations say visitors must abide by health protocols including wearing masks in public and maintaining physical distance irrespective of vaccination status.
Passengers will still need to fill out their CCMC forms and get a digital QR code and show it at the health desk on arrival at Kathmandu airport.
Outgoing passengers, however, need to abide by the regulations in the destination country as well as the rules set by airlines, which vary widely.
The decision comes a week after Kathmandu Valley removed all Covid-19 restrictions due to a sharp decline in the number of daily new cases, and the positivity rate. The Omicron variant which is thought to be the dominant strain circulating in the region is also largely mild, keeping hospitalisation figures low in Nepal.
On Friday, there were 77 new Covid-19 cases against 7,981 PCR and RDT tests. There was only one fatality nationwide. The figure for active cases across the country is also down to 5,212 whereas a total of 189 individuals recovered in the last 24 hours. Nepal recorded 10,052 new cases on 20 January, it’s highest, during the third wave.
The easing of the restriction has come as a respite for tourism entrepreneurs and operators who have suffered heavily in the past two years due to the pandemic. Nepal’s spring trekking and mountaineering season has already started and there were 16,000 tourists entering the country in February, about one-tenth of pre-pandemic figures for that mounth, but still higher than in February 2021.
At least 1 million Nepalis depend on the tourism sector which makes up nearly 8% of the GDP. Before the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis, the government had declared 2020 Visit Nepal Year with a target of bringing in 2 million tourists.
However, the figures dropped to 230,085 in 2020 and further down to 150,962 in 2021 due to travel restrictions, lockdowns and complicated entry provisions when the country was periodically open for travellers.
Heavy losses incurred during the pandemic forced many star hotels and restaurants to shut down. But perhaps the hardest hit are trekking porters and guides who depend on seasonal income during spring and autumn.
Initial projections estimated that it will take five years for the industry to pick up and tourists to return to pre-pandemic levels, but tour operators are optimistic with more businesses opening up and expanding with services geared towards adventure and nature tourism, which is expected to take off in the post-Covid world.
Health experts have also predicted the pandemic to end in 2022 with equitable distribution of vaccines and access to treatment, further normalising the situation. But perhaps the biggest reassurance for the industry is the increasing rate of vaccination in and outside the country.
A total of 62.5% of Nepal’s population has been fully inoculated while 74.5% have taken at least one dose. The figure for a booster dose is however low at 5.2%. Even so, Nepal is still on the travel red list of many European countries, the US, and Australia.