180+ tourists stranded on Nepal's high-altitude trails due to coronavirus lockdown

When Nepal's nation-wide lockdown went into effect early Wednesday in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, hundreds of tourists were stranded, including some on high altitude trekking trails.

By Friday, 137 tourists had been rescued from different parts of the country, according to a statement posted to the Nepal Tourism Board's website, but there were still more than 180 tourists still stranded. 

“All the stranded tourists will be rescued, kept safely for self isolation and facilitated for their safe journey back home," Yogesh Bhattarai, Hon. Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, said in the statement. 

The Nepal Tourism Board has set up a “Stranded in Nepal” website, Twitter, and WhatsApp for those stuck to keep in touch and relay information about their conditions and needs.

Nepal is famous for its mountain peaks. Within its borders are eight of the 10 highest peaks in the world, including Mount Everest. The Nepal Tourism Board touts the nation as a "mountaineer's paradise." There are 326 additional mountains in the nation and almost one third of the country sits at a high altitude, above 3,500 meters. As such, Nepal is a prime tourism spot for adventure-seekers. 

According to the tourism board's site the infrastructure for some mountain areas are well developed with access base camps. However, there are also more remote areas where it's difficult to reach trekkers in distress.

"We will leave no stone unturned to locate and rescue our valued tourists for which we solicit support and cooperation from local communities and concerned travel trade companies and associations," Dhananjay Regmi, CEO of Nepal Tourism Board said in the statement. 

With the beginning of the nation's lockdown, the U.S. Embassy in Nepal asked the Nepali government to assist them in organizing flights for U.S. citizens to return home. 

"The Embassy is exploring flight options that will depart from Kathmandu once the permission is granted," the embassy said in a statement posted to their website. "At this time we have no further details, including timeline for these arrangements, but will provide them as they become available."

It is unclear whether any U.S. citizens are stranded on or have been rescued from the high-altitude trails.

Earlier in the month, Nepal suspended climbing permits for Mt. Everest, effectively shuttering the more than 29,000-foot mountain that sits between Nepal and Tibet for the popular spring climbing season.

Surendra Thapa, an official with Nepal’s Department of Tourism, said the decision to shut down the climbing season was a precautionary measure as countries around the world combat the spread of the new virus that causes COVID-19.

"Breathing is already a challenge at high altitudes, so an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, a severe respiratory disease, among the climbers would be particularly devastating," Furtenbach Adventures, an expedition company, said in a statement.

USA TODAY has reached out to the Nepal Tourism Board and the U.S. Embassy in Nepal.

Contributing: Ryan Miller

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2020/03/27/coronavirus-nepal-tourists-stranded-trekking-trails-amid-covid-19/2924169001/

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