Nepal is considering allowing unrestricted entry to vaccinated tourists in a bid to boost the morale of the moribund tourism industry ahead of the upcoming spring peak season, Tourism Minister Bhanu Bhakta Dhakal said on Friday.
There will be no quarantine and coronavirus insurance requirements, and all visitors will need to produce is proof of having had the shot. Many countries have started issuing a vaccine certificate or vaccine passport to international travelers.
“In order to ease restrictions on travel, we are allowing tourists to travel freely if they produce a certificate that proves they have been vaccinated,” Dhakal told a media briefing here on Friday. He said the ministry had also recommended resuming issuing on-arrival visas to all tourists at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport.
Seychelles became the first country in the world to welcome vaccinated tourists without quarantine requirements.
Dhakal said the government was also preparing to extend the 72-hour validity of negative Covid-19 test reports for those who have not been vaccinated.
Currently, all visitors to Nepal above age five must have a negative PCR test obtained not more than 72 hours before departure, according to the Department of Immigration.
A mandatory seven-day hotel quarantine, with a second negative PCR test on the fifth day after arrival, is required. Trekkers and mountaineers must also have insurance coverage worth $5,000.
The government still has not resumed granting on-arrival visas at Kathmandu airport, except to officials of diplomatic missions and non-resident Nepalis.
“We are taking a few proposals which we have discussed with the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre to the cabinet for its approval,” said Dhakal. “We expect that these measures will permit tourists to come to Nepal without hassles.”
Nepal imposed a complete lockdown in March last year that kept out all foreign sightseers during the second peak tourist season.
Travel trade entrepreneurs said that excepting mountaineering expeditions, advance booking for the spring season still had not picked up due to travel-related restrictions.
Nepal launched a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination drive on Wednesday and plans to immunize 72 percent of its 30 million population in three months.
A day after starting the inoculation campaign, the government decided to re-open 16 border points with India and China, allowing citizens of the respective countries to travel to Nepal. Earlier, the government re-opened 14 border crossings.
Minister Dhakal said that the re-opening of the land points would facilitate Indian tourist movement into Nepal, especially during the upcoming Maha Shivaratri festival on March 11 when thousands of Indian pilgrims visit the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu.
According to the Health Ministry, the country reported 157 new coronavirus infections among 3,221 PCR tests done in the past 24 hours, pushing the overall infection tally to 270,745. As of Friday, the active case count stood at 3,022.
On January 23, the local administration in Nepal's Everest region threw the door wide open to tourists by removing all Covid-related restrictions in a fresh attempt to woo back trekkers to its popular trails.
Sightseers visiting the Everest region are no longer required to submit a negative Covid-19 RT-PCR test report or go into quarantine.
Last March, the government stopped issuing on-arrival tourist visas to nationals of all countries besides cancelling spring mountaineering expeditions including those to Everest.
The decision came a day after the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, and urged countries to take precautionary measures.
In October, Nepal opened the door a crack for trekkers and mountaineers, nearly seven months after the country imposed a complete lockdown.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the hospitality industry continued to be significantly and adversely impacted even after the government lifted the lockdown; and things are unlikely to improve in the next few months, said hotel owners.
The coronavirus crisis resulted in an 80.78 percent drop in tourist arrivals from the previous year, making it the worst year-on-year fall in tourist numbers since Nepal opened the door to foreign visitors in the 1950s.