Nepal will stop issuing visas on arrival until April 30 and closed all of its peaks, including Mount Everest, this climbing season because of fears of the coronavirus pandemic, according to government officials.
Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai said expeditions to all peaks in the March-May spring season had been suspended over coronavirus fears.
“It is as a precaution for that,” Bhattarai told Reuters, when asked if the move was because of the coronavirus.
The Himalayan nation, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains including Everest, gets more than $4m in permit fees for the world’s highest peak and other mountains every year.
Nepal has confirmed just one case of the coronavirus – a student studying in China on a trip home – of 450 people tested.
The suspension of expeditions in Nepal will affect hundreds of foreign climbers now preparing for the spring season, a window of relatively good weather between the end of the bitterly cold winter and the rainy season, which begins in June.
Everest, the world’s highest mountain at 8,850 metres (29,035 feet), is on the border between Nepal and the Chinese region of Tibet. China announced the closure of its side of the mountain on Thursday.
It is the second time in recent years that the climbing season has been disrupted.
Expeditions were suspended in 2015 after a major earthquake struck Nepal on April 25 that year, killing some 9,000 people.
Eighteen people were killed at the Everest base camp when an avalanche triggered by the quake roared down a slope.
“This is disappointing news for both our expedition leaders and our clients who have trained for months for this year’s climb,” Lukas Furtenbach of the California-based guiding company Furtenbach Adventures, said.
Adrian Ballinger of the Alpenglow Expeditions company said he understood the decision.
“While cancelling a climb is never an outcome we want, this time, it’s the responsible thing to do,” Ballinger said in a statement.
“A COID-19 outbreak at base camp would be dangerous and potentially devastating,” he said.