The UIAA Covid-19 Committee held its latest online meeting on 18 May.
The Committee divided its latest meeting into two parts – the first, as has been custom, discussed the current and diverse situation in countries and regions represented by members of the group. The second focused on specific issues currently developing: the recent outbreak of Covid-19 at Everest base camp; ethical questions regarding the distribution of oxygen cylinders; should foreign climbers be visiting the Himalaya and other high altitude locations?; and, the impact of overtourism, a contentious topic particularly for many UIAA member federations in Europe. These issues are escalating on a daily basis, therefore it is difficult for the UIAA to provide guidance on individual cases. However, the Committee has released the following statement to clarify the current UIAA position.
“The UIAA – International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation – primarily through its Covid-19 Committee has been following recent developments and the pandemic’s effect on climbing and mountaineering. The UIAA recognises that restrictions and negative recommendations have serious economic, social, and other consequences. The UIAA also acknowledges and advocates the independent decisions of climbers and mountaineers and operators. However, looking at the current pandemic challenges faced by certain countries, in particular the high mountain regions of Africa, Asia and South America, the UIAA urges individuals to carefully consider the place and timing of their excursions. The UIAA recommends that, for the time being, in view of the rapidly evolving pandemic and given each country’s ability to respond to changes and to managing their own healthcare systems, this is not the time to visit these areas. In close partnership with its membership, the UIAA will continue to monitor the situation and offer further guidance.”
On this very subject, the UIAA Medical Commission has recently published a paper ‘Adventure travel in the Covid-19 era’ which helps individuals make informed decisions about when to travel. The paper can be viewed here.
Regional reports from UIAA Covid-19 Committee members published below provide further context.
In terms of areas where there are issues of overcrowding or overtourism, some covered in the reports below, the UIAA advises climbers to follow the advice of UIAA member associations in the respective country and to avoid recognised ‘honeypots’.
Reliable and regular testing remains an issue and available vaccines dictate that the current roll-out is very slow. In South Africa, only about 0.6% of the total population has been vaccinated. A more coordinated roll-out is planed from the second half of May.
The third wave is starting to abate with many Covid-19 restrictions largely determined by regional authorities. Climbing gyms are currently open, overtourism is a significant concern in popular outdoor areas (see above).
A huge second wave is sweeping the country with the peak reaching 400,000 cases and 4,000 deaths per day. Foreign climbers and hikers are not allowed as of now and it is unlikely that they would be allowed in the post-monsoon season of 2021. The pre-monsoon season of 2022 may be the earliest that mountaineers and hikers to consider planning for.
Although a significant number of reported cases are tracked to the capital Kathmandu, Covid is an increasing presence in villages and rural areas as evidenced with the recent cases to have made headlines around Everest expeditions. The Covid outbreaks at base camp have gained significant headlines and led to some criticism of expedition operators. The cases and testing have highlighted that Covid-19 and high altitude sickness share many of the same symptoms and side effects.
Non-essential travel is still not possible between Canada and the United States and within Canada travel between many provinces is banned. Although a number of Alpine Club of Canada huts are open, a large number of private huts remain closed.
The Alpine Club of Pakistan has announced that the ban on tourists has been lifted and foreign climbers are now permitted to climb in the Baltistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region. Covid protocols and negative PCR test are needed.
The freedom to move around and the opening of the ski resorts during the winter showed that outdoor activities have very low infection potential if correct safety measures are applied. Details of these measures are provided on the Swiss Alpine Club’s website – French and German.
Sport activities in general
Outdoor activities are allowed (if without body contact). They are permitted in groups of up to a maximum of 15 people (including the leader). Protection masks must be worn if the distance of 1.5m cannot be kept. No negative test or vaccination is required.
Training and competition are allowed indoor for young people up to the age of 20 (birth year 2001). Climbing gyms are open for people up to 20 but remain closed for people older than 20. Professional and elite sport (incl. international competition) is allowed albeit without spectators.
Some huts are still open for the winter season. Due to the outdoor boom, there were many visitors in the huts during the winter. Some of these visitors were Covid positive and infected other guests and hut teams. For this reason, the SAC asks hut visitors to conduct a self-test the day before visiting a hut. If the test is positive, they must cancel their stay.
In addition to the self-test, the usual safety measures are still in place: compulsory reservation (no reservation, no bed), bringing your own sleeping bag, social distancing (1.5m), hand washing, table of max. four people, separations between tables and beds, tracing, etc. The corresponding protection plans for mountain huts are available on the SAC website. For the time being, hut teams are only allowed again to serve meals to day guests on the terrace (i.e. outdoor, like restaurants). They can, as before, serve meals inside to the guests staying in the hut overnight (like hotels).
Entry into Switzerland: Depending on the type of travel, visitors may have to fill out an entry form, show proof of a negative test and/or go into quarantine. More information can be found on www.bag.admin.ch/entry.
France & Italy
In terms of two of the other major destinations in the Alps, information has been provided by respective federations in France and Italy.
Likewise the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI) provides climbers with a dedicated repository on Covid-19 regulations and protocols.
With thanks to the UIAA CCC Taskforce members from Belgium, Canada, Germany, India, Nepal, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom who contributed to this article.
The next UIAA Covid-19 Taskforce meeting is scheduled for June.
Further reading: UIAA & Covid-19 Portal
The latest guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) can be found here.