Update: February 28, 2020
With Tsagaan Sar quieting the city this week, it's been an odd week to be in Ulaanbaatar. Celebrations seemed, from the outside, to have been kept modest for most families, the traffic restrictions on the roads heading in and out of the city hindering movements quite a lot. Walking the streets on Monday and Tuesday, there weren't many people or cars to be seen.
Following the holiday, on Wednesday (February 26) the government announced that the traffic restrictions would continue until March 2. A blow to me as I was planning to head down to the Gobi Desert for the weekend to escape the never ending onslaught of frustrating news around the virus, which has deeply impacted my upcoming travel plans to Iran.
The restrictions would extend to public transportation, which will only run during "peak" hours. It's still possible to grab a taxi on the street.
Gyms have been closed and the few restaurants and bars that remain open are being closed by 10 p.m., putting a sort of unofficial curfew on the city.
Yesterday it was announced that President Battulga was the first foreign representative to visit China
since the outbreak began. (A smart, albeit mostly self-serving, move on the politician's part.) As a gesture of solidarity and goodwill, he also gifted China 30,000 sheep. (This has been received with mixed reactions from my local friends - but that's a separate article all together.) The President will self-quarantine himself following the trip.
Today I'm told that smaller hostels and guesthouses have been asked to close their doors until March 30, with inspectors even coming by to ensure that no guests remain on the premises. This is a huge blow to these small, locally-owned businesses as they still have to pay their employees 60% of their salaries during this time and the future even after they reopen is, well, not looking good. The Shangri-La
is still open and operating.
I realize I'm one of the few in this boat, but travel advisories typically don't scare me. Mongolia was however today listed as a Level 3 country
, meaning the U.S. wants U.S. citizens to "reconsider travel" into the country. With much of the country closed at this time (and I don't know enough to say that April will see the country return to normal, but I have hopes that by May and summer things certainly will), I have to agree that March is not a time to head to Mongolia, that's for sure.
And, if you do still decide to come here in March, you'll be scanned at the airport, asked to self-quarantine or flat-out denied entry if you're been to any of the affected countries in the last few weeks. If you can get a flight, that is. Flights through Istanbul and Moscow seem to be unaffected, but will surely start to see a hike in fare price as these flights are becoming the only viable flights into and out of the country, at least through March.
Additionally, the Peace Corps announced that they would be evacuating their 94 volunteers from Mongolia
. But, to put that into perspective, many of the volunteers live outside of the city, in remote regions of the country where health care typically isn't immediately available.
The impact these advisories and restrictions is already starting to have on the population who relies not only on tourism, but on imported goods, is, quite simply, going to be immense. The country will need tourism more than ever this summer, I just hope things calm down soon enough to allow it.
There are still 0 official cases in the country.