Mountains feel the effects of virus pandemic


Last week, Nepal announced that it would close all of its Himalayan peaks, including Mount Everest, to tourists as a precautionary measure to combat COVID-19. Nepal is home to 8 of the 14 highest mountains in the world, and normally controls 400 peaks that are open to foreign climbers. These mountains will remain closed for the duration of the 2020 climbing season. The country will also stop issuing on-arrival tourist visas until at least the end of April.

Nepal’s closure of Everest follows two crowded seasons. The years 2018 and 2019 saw record-breaking numbers of climbers flocking to the mountain. This year will be the second year in the past five years that Everest will be closed; the last time was in 2015, when an earthquake devastated the country.

Nepal followed the lead of the Tibetan side of Everest, which was closed by the Chinese government. On 11 March, the China Tibet Mountaineering Association (CTMA) announced that the north side of the mountain will be off-limits this season.

Mountains’ high altitudes, which make breathing more difficult, would only worsen the effects of COVID-19. Base camps can be easily turned into the centre of outbreaks, as people are in close proximity to each other.

Other mountains around the world are also feeling the effects of the virus. Mountains in the United States of America have essentially closed as of last weekend. Skiing in Colorado has come to a halt as the governor ordered all ski areas to close. Resorts in other states around the country - like Utah, California and Vermont - followed suit. These small mountain communities feared their health services would be overburdened if a tourist outbreak were to occur.

It is unclear when normalcy will return to the world’s mountains, but what is certain is that these closures will have economic ripples across the world, just like other tourism sectors worldwide. Many mountain communities, from Colorado to Nepal, depend on mountain tourism to sustain their economies. The suspension of tourism will likely have the largest effect on small mountain communities whose livelihoods depend exclusively on tourism. Local guides, agencies, accommodations, shops and others involved in the industry will be among those impacted.

Photo from Subhasish Chakraborty

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