Nepal to ban independent trekking: no more solo treks! (updated)

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ August 9th, 2012. Updated on August 23rd, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Solo trekking in Nepal

Solo trekking in Nepal to be banned – with daily fees to be added plus a mandatory guide or porter to accompany you

Updated 22nd August 2012 (see bottom of article for latest updates)

In September 2012 Nepal will ban all solo trekking in Nepal

Yes the headline looks set to become true. According to TAAN (Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal) who’ve indicated confirmation from the Ministry of Home Affairs you will no longer be able to trek independently in Nepal from September 2012 onwards. All solo trekking in Nepal will be banned.

About 4 months ago I received details from a friend listing out the latest official government trekking fees and changes. Additional government taxes were being added to certain routes. I called him straight away to confirm. I was told there was more coming.

Last week this news broke from TAAN. Being “Nepal” it’s taken this long just to get an official confirmation.

What’s unconfirmed are reports surrounding the exact additional costs that will have to be endured by solo trekkers

Why has Nepal banned independent or solo trekking?

“Officially” the reason stems as a way to protect independent trekkers alone in the mountains of Nepal.

Quote: “Recent murder of a Belgian trekker in Langtang National Park along with some other cases of disappearance of trekkers have created negative image of Nepal in international market, according to Lamsal.Rana Bahadur Khadka, first vice-president of TAAN, said the new policy decision means all trekkers will have to take the service of government registered trekking agencies.”  (TAAN source)

They also go on to mention that this will increase the cost of solo trekking in Nepal by $10 per day to all FIT’s (Free Independent Trekkers).

 “The Ministry of Home Affairs had taken the decision earlier this month following mounting pressure from tourism entrepreneurs, diplomatic missions and kin of missing tourists” (TAAN)

Package tourists going to Everest

Independent travel vs this … package tours to Everest

Initially rumors said that this $10 a day was an additional fee to every solo trekker in Nepal. However it now seems that this is what TAAN says a porter will cost under this scheme and not a new fee.

While the Ministry of Home Affairs has been mentioned, as of yet there has been no official announcement or confirmation from the Ministry of Tourism.

So is the “unofficial” reason for banning solo trekking in Nepal really about making more money by making it mandatory to take a TAAN registered porter/guide or is it to protect trekkers?

Is it really that dangerous to go solo trekking in Nepal?

First and foremost the outright banning of independent trekking in Nepal is based on protecting trekkers and Nepal’s international trekking image due to a recent murder and recent disappearances of trekkers.

The raw reality is that ever since I’ve known about Nepal I’ve heard about trekkers going missing for days, disappearing for good or dying due to injury, exposure or unknown causes. There’s no difference between people going missing ten years ago compared to today other than news spreads faster today.

When I first went trekking in Nepal (2007) Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree had several threads on people who had gone “missing while trekking”. I was also a little concerned before going trekking.

The primary reason I was concerned was due to Maoist harassment of trekkers. This was a time when they would stop you and demand an outright bribe of 1000 rupees to let you pass. Indeed as I was trekking a Swiss man was badly beaten by Maoists for not paying during the same trek route. So yes I was concerned. Then again, this was politically motivated and not due to just “trekking alone in Nepal”.

Other incidents were linked to people wandering off the trails, falling into ravines and simply never being found again.

Porter on the Annapurna Trail

One way around is to take a porter. They usually keep to themselves. Yes you’ll have to pay for them, plus your $10 daily FIT fee. The cost pretty much adds up to a package tour.

Generally speaking 2011/2012 was and is no different. Yes there was the tragic brutal killing of Debbie Maveau this year. That’s one killing. I won’t go into stats of safe places on earth vs big cities etc. As deplorable as this murder was it’s a single incident in the year with no evidence to support robbery, sexual assault or the reason why it even occurred.

Why do people go missing or die when trekking in Nepal?

Still wondering why people go missing in Nepal? There are obviously many sub-equations to this. In my experience both in trekking, reading, listening and hearing from others close to the heart of the situation it generally boils down to the following in order of probability.

Experience & curiosity mixed with bad luck: People with no prior trekking experience head off alone. While many treks are well-marked out the curious will often go off the beaten path once in a while to explore things. A loose rock, deep ravine, broken tree branch, overcrowded small trail, domestic along with wild animal incidents and all manner of natural elements could result in someone losing their footing, falling, hitting their head, twisting an ankle and so on. The result is they are out in the open, off the beaten path, exposed to the elements and perish.

The challenger (or mutton head trekker): This is the trekker who is either over-confident, egotistical, naive or simply too gung-ho. Much like the above they set themselves challenges that are either off the beaten path or involve quick side trips to accomplish something they might think no one else has. The results can be much the same as the above.

Bad things do happen: Lastly bad things do happen. Like anywhere in the world there are some people who are either bad, mentally unstable, desperate or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Muggings, rapes and murders happen everywhere in the world. Nepal is no different and neither are its mountains. In general the Nepalese people are wonderfully peaceful and gentle. There will be exceptions and there are also a lot more than Nepalese people wandering around the mountains of Nepal.

How do the trekking guides and agencies feel about this?

I’ve asked a few independent guides and agencies on their thoughts about this. The common answer is:

“We can’t do anything about it!”

“It’s just the big people making more money.”

When I asked if it would improve or worsen their businesses there was a fifty-fifty split. Many feel like the Nepalese government & TAAN have been re-routing trekking profits and tourist figures for the past few years.

One does need to keep in mind that big Nepalese trekking agencies who bring in trekkers from abroad don’t feel as threatened by this. Why? Most of their profitable clientage are in the form of groups not solo trekkers. Note: not all, but most.

Will a ban on solo trekking effect tourism?

Officially there was an 18%+ increase in tourism during 2011. Unofficially local agencies, restaurants and guest houses have seen a decline in numbers. Why? According to local business associations tourist numbers are down due to officially injected sponsored package tours.

The Nepalese government have been actively seeking package tours and bookings during “Nepal’s Year of Tourism 2011″. Incentives to a few select tour operators ensured that package tours from China, Korea, Taiwan and India were offered exclusively to a few agencies with ties to government bodies or their “friends”.

The increased numbers resulted in a select few agencies utilized by the government getting access to these tourists as they were shuttled between select treks, tourist souvenir shops, hotels, trekking guest houses and even restaurants. Local businesses generally saw a dramatic decline in business during this period.

Sadly most of the people I speak to about this ban on independent trekking feel they are powerless. In a country where there’s an ever revolving government that hasn’t even been able to create a constitution in over 5 years they feel their voices are instantly lost in a corrupt bureaucratic quagmire.

Current official fees for solo trekkers in Nepal

TIMS card (Trekkers Management Information System) was introduced a number of years ago. It’s a  one-off payment that ensured a computerized database entry of each trekkers personal details in the event they got lost and to prevent illegal trekking agencies from working. $20 for solo trekkers vs $10 for group trekkers. Interestingly this system has been earning a lot of money for some, yet still losing money for others (Himalayan Times: source)

A group of independent trekkers in Nepal

A group of independent trekkers in Nepal: perfectly safe in many ways, but soon to be banned …

Conservation fees are issued based on the area you are trekking to maintain the ecology of the area and environmental impact.

National park fees for each of the main trekking areas are also applicable.

Minimum FIT fee of $10 per day for mandatory guide/porter. What’s not clear is if the fee is what TAAN thinks a porter/guide costs or if it’s a fee for a single independent person or independent group. Nor is it clear if solo couples or independent groups are subject to a FIT porter/guide.

Lastly let’s not forget our visa fees which mount to $40 for 30 days.

This is no small money: As a solo independent trekker I refute Mr. Anjan Thapa (treasurer of TAAN) who when mentioning the $10 per day additional fee for solo trekkers said -

Quote: “This is a very nominal amount and it won´t affect tourist arrivals,”

Mr. Thapa, $10 a day is a lot of money and it’s grossly incorrect if that’s what you think an additional guide or porter costs. Surely you should know this as TAAN has stated previously that a porter should be about $15 per day while guide/porters are $20, more again for licensed guides ($25+). Shame your TAAN website pages that did have such content & information are constantly going blank but at least your office answers the phone. (P.S. your forum doesn’t work either) 

You may also want to consult with TAAN’s CEO Danja Ram Pand who has stated that the new fee is between $10-15 for a certified porter/guide (AFP/Yahoo source).

What your $10-15 gets you: Mr. Pand also reveals that the FIT porter/guides will all have undertaken 6 months training which includes orientation training as well as emergency procedures to support travelers. He also hints they will be multi-lingual!

Sound’s like great stuff. But I honestly can’t imagine this costing a solo trekker only $10-$15 per day. If it does, I’m quite sure this fee will not cover their accommodation nor food – unlike current guide/porter fees.

Either way it’s not an nominal amount.

Let’s look at a case scenario with this additional mandatory porter/guide :

For a solo trek to Everest Base Camp with a mandatory FIT porter/guide at $15 per for 12 days the additional cost will be $180.

Now let’s look at the Annapurna circuit a longer popular trek these days. Let’s say I want to do it in 18 days.

FIT porter guide $15 x 18 days = $270 in additional costs.

Keep in mind that’s not including permits, conservation fees or entry fees.

As an independent trekker maybe I enjoyed the Annapurna region so much that on the way back I want to take another 8 days and go to Annapurna Base camp. Well Mr. Thapa, that’ll cost me another $120 on top of everything else on the circuit. Mounting to a grand total of $390 of additional expenses.

Mr. Thapa, you just lost another trekker to Nepal because in no way is that “a very nominal amount”.\

And still we don’t know if the $10-15 per day will include accommodation and food for this mandatory guide/porter. 

For the record if I was to solo trek again in Nepal I would be taking my own porter to help carry camera equipment so it’s not just about extra expensive. My personal angst is at no longer having the freedom to trek alone if I so choose.

Protecting trekkers or making more money from trekkers?

There are in fact many things that irritate me about all this. Having read an official document sent to trekking agencies a few months ago advising them of new government fees for certain treks to this outright banning of solo trekking and yet mandatory $10-15 per day porter guides from TAAN’s registry. The reality is it all simply stinks of trying to squeeze as much money out of people visiting Nepal as humanly possible.

Sadly much like this alleged package tour tourism numbers fiasco this banning on solo trekking seems more about funneling money back into certain pockets than anything else. What’s next? Will we have to stay at TAAN registered tea houses on trekking routes?

Nepal was once a country that embraced independent travel

Aside from the usual “tourist prices” we’ve all put up with over the years Nepal was still a great country to explore.

Today Nepal imposes tourist fees on everything from walking in many public squares, visiting several places of worship and now to trek any of the beautiful mountains alone.

People often wince and laugh when mentioning the subject of “golden age of travel”.

Come September any hint of golden age independent travel in Nepal will be gone if this is confirmed. What’s left will be group tours for anyone who has the money to pay for them and join the crowd.

Or you’ll simply have to cough up the money to pay for an extra guide/ porter to tag along with you for $10-15 per day.

If you were a conspiracist you might even add there seems to be a push to take package tours rather than solo trekking which goes in line with the alleged tourism numbers game and the certain elite companies who get exclusive access to these tourists.

And here’s an additional crunch. The CEO of TAAN is quoted as saying that this measure will also:

“minimize illegal trekking agencies operated by foreigners.” (AFP/Yahoo source)

Let the debates on who pays Nepalese guides and porters better or worse on that one begin!

The future of solo trekking in Nepal

Again, TAAN is publicly acknowledging this yet so far there has been no official announcement from the Ministry of Tourism. Already independent trekkers around the world and outdoor magazines are writing about this outright travesty.

“Tourists traveling to any trekking destination will have to take at least a support staff (porter or guide) with them from September.” – TAAN

TAAN have said this is happening. Yet it’s still not officially clear what is happening other than solo trekking in Nepal is being banned. Confirmation is needed on if the $10-15 per day includes food and lodging for a porter/guide or not. Are independent groups required to take a porter/guide as well? What about couples?

For all the talk and confirmation of implementing a national ban on solo trekking in Nepal there desperately needs to be some officially confirmed written facts coming jointly from TAAN, The Ministry for Tourism and The Ministry of Home Affairs.

However, no matter the outcry it will be a steep battle to overturn such a ruling in regards to the banning of independent trekking in Nepal. Certain trekking agencies will likely prosper while we in the minority that are independent trekkers will lose out in what was once one of the greatest countries on earth for independent trekking and travel.

Update 19th August 2012

TAAN just released a statement stating that:

“The government has decided to put the decision to ban solo trekking in Nepal on hold until further notice”

The full statement from TAAN can be read here. Many thanks to Mark Horrell who spotted this latest development from the comments below.

This comes as welcome news and a huge sigh of relief. We can hope that someone in the Nepalese government saw the disastrous consequences that a ban on solo trekking in Nepal would create. We can also only assume they made this decision in part from the negative publicity and outcry from articles like this and the many others that appeared admonishing such a ban. Either way it’s good to see this outcome.

Hopefully it will remain free to trek solo in Nepal. With efforts being put into improving the trekking experience for visitors by other rational means.

As a sub-note: trekking permit fees were just increased in Nepal.

This is an additional feature article about the banning of independent trekking in Nepal – it will be updated as more of this news breaks or is confirmed.

Interested in going to Nepal for trekking? Read my free guides: » What to expect when trekking in Nepal » Everything you need to know about Everest Base Camp » list of popular treks in Nepal with maps & » how to hire a guide in Nepal.

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29 Great responses to Nepal to ban independent trekking: no more solo treks! (updated)

  1. “It’s just the big people making more money.” – sounds like the world over ($21-32 trillion in recent tax avoidance by the world’s richest …). Anyway, I transgress.

    An excellent article about another sad state of 21st century tourism … like the Inca Trail and other mandatory tours these days.

    Ahh yes, the Golden Age of Travel; luckily for us we were both doing it before it becomes really-too-late to bother travelling anywhere, anymore … Alias, the world is changing too fast and this has me feeling very depressed today; or maybe it’s simply the gloomy post-typhoon weather outside my window today, here in China.

    • It just makes me very sad. Nepal’s changed greatly since 2007 in terms of restrictions, and I imagine even more so for people that have visited before then.

      The usual “tourist prices” aside. I tried to ignore all these new and increased entry fees for literally everywhere these days. That was hard.

      But this ban on solo trekking is like digging a knife into what initially made this country so great.

  2. BB Travels says:

    After reading your posts about trekking it had me interested in doing the same. Today less so. I’m not forced to take a guide to trek in the Swiss Alps why should Nepal be different? It is simply less appealing now.

  3. Simon says:

    Excellent article, Dave.

    Apparently, more and more countries in Asia are applying this kind of model, increasingly treating independent tourists as ‘milking cows’. I just came back from Burma and I can’t count the number of ‘Tourist Fees’ I had to pay. Honestly, that was the most annoying thing and it somehow spoiled the travel experience.

    It’s not only a matter of rising costs in some countries for independent tourists. What deeply annoys me is not knowing in whose pockets this money goes (or knowing it too well…) If it was a was to really support local people in need, financing schools, small entrepreneurial projects etc. I wouldn’t really mind. But that’s not the case.

    That’s one of the reasons why to me, many Asian countries are getting less and less attractive. The world is big, and I won’t anyway live longer enough to see it all. Nepal is awesome (I was there in 1998) but there are many other places that are as beautiful if not even more. Nepal should think about it…

    • Thanks Simon.

      Yes I’ve noticed this too over the past few years. Independent tourists being charged more or having restrictions and “encouraged” to be a part of a group tour.

      Aside from the old “tourist” prices vs local prices restriction on things like trekking in Nepal really has me looking at other locations to trek. Not so much due to costs but due to the freedom of actually being able to trek alone and not have to hire a mandatory porter/guide.

      On top of that I really just think Nepal needs a kick in regards to these things. For a country that relies so much on tourism things like this and the blundering way they go about initializing things puts me off no end.

  4. Jen says:

    Sir Dave,

    Do you remember Philippines? This year we went on vacation to Banaue. Everywhere we go they want to charge us something. Even 20 pesos to look at rice terrace from the look out. And for day trip trek they said we had to go with paid guide. So bad. Not just Nepal doing this.

    We would like to go Nepal but it’s just too expensive for us now. We have to wait for a company to offer package tour because we can’t go alone due to price.

    • Hi Jen,

      Yes I remember The Philippines. I seem to remember a fee for entering Sagada town as well. Sorry to hear they seem to be adding charges to everything in Banaue. Could be worse, it could be Camiguin where everything now has a cover charge.

      If you can make it to Nepal, do try. It’s still a wonderful country to visit. This is hopefully only a hicup and they’ll realize they are cutting off a vital aspect of their tourism prospects.

  5. Anis says:

    Great well-researched piece, Dave. Such a shame this is happening in Nepal which, like you said, once stood for exploration and independent travel. Seems like Nepal is following in Tibet’s footsteps- making life difficult for independent travellers.

    • I think they’re looking at the Bhutuan model of tourism and high end tourists. And in doing so cutting off their legs despite their stomachs. Malaysia seems to have got the balance right, no reason Nepal can’t either!

      • trevor says:

        hi Dave….Malaysia charges to go up Kinabalu…. i know… been up there 3 times PLUS 3 times on the climbathon…..people get ‘lost’ up there too…. u have to be pretty dumb to get lost up there, but in Taman Negara where its very easy to get lost, one can walk for free…. and long may it continue….
        glad i got to ABC last year…

  6. Yet another great article Dave. While it’s a pity that you won’t be able to trek around the Himalayas solo, this new change isn’t so bad. I did the solo thing a few years back. Going solo means you don’t have a porter and so yet another local person doesn’t get employment. You also miss out on local knowledge of routes, stories, folklore than only a local guide can give you. You have to remember that the villages you pass through are poor are totally depend on tourist income. What would $10 a day get you in the West?
    John

    • Thanks John. Well to clarify: it won’t be those local businesses that will be getting the money if this goes through in September. It will be select TAAN guides/porters who will have to work through TAAN agencies who take a percentage of their salary that will be earning.

      Those villages are already suffering. This will just put an end to many day-to-day local’s who rely on independent tourists.

      The TIMS card should have enabled better tracking / protection for trekkers. Sadly as you can see from the link above it simply never worked well due to how it was implemented (financially).

  7. Doug says:

    Nice article, but it’s important to note that this is all speculation at this point. TAAN is not a government agency, and has no authority to enforce these new “rules”. The only official rule at this point is that you cannot solo trek in Langtang – and this was their local government that made this ruling. So let’s just wait and see. TAAN is actively promoting this idea to the government for their own greedy purposes, but that doesn’t mean that the government will accept and enforce it.

    • Hi Doug, thanks. Yes, I made references to this not being officially signed off on yet in the article. What’s worrying is that the Ministry of Home Affairs has been quoted in places in support of this. Nothing from Ministry for Tourism. But yes as you say this an all TAAN promotion. We can only hope the government does not approve of this in it’s current form.

  8. Linus says:

    Bad idea if implemented. Like you say it’s not about cost, it’s about the choice of trekking alone if we want to. We’re adults, we make our own choices.

    I’m guessing this will end up harming the smaller lodges that don’t attract groups. For instance, the Jiri-Lukla stretch doesn’t seem to get a lot of traffic. None of the people I’ve met there have been part of a group. Many lodges on that route are on the ropes to begin with.

    I love Nepal, but if this is implemented I think I’ll go elsewhere.

    • Totally agree with you Linus. Those small independent guesthouses that make a little extra will vanish. I imagine there will be community ghost towns in some areas. One look at how some of these package tour operations work in the area and you can see the impact on those not “selected” for accommodation etc.

      I’m really hoping someone from the Nepalese government will see this for what it is and block this idea.

  9. Interesting that the officials appear to be downplaying the extra cost by saying $10 a day when, as you’ve pointed out, the real costs are higher. I think budget/independent travelers pose challenges for tourism officials because we spend much less money and aren’t necessarily using licensed guides or tour operators that pay fees or have contracts with the government. (Although we are benefiting the local economies by staying in family-owned guest houses and shopping at local markets, etc). It would be nice if they were honest about the reasons for this new policy, but I doubt they would admit their was a financial incentive rather than a safety issue.

    • Very valid points Leslie. I few years ago there was an article going around about how long term budget travelers actually spend more than short term holiday makers when you take costs into consideration.

      Times are changing and with the advent of “data mining” tourism board simply have more control over package tours than budget independents.

      One thing for sure, in either case this type of fudging of costs speaks volumes about where the real bottom dollar lies!

    • Leslie I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, they are more worried about money than safety, to them its the quality of the visitors that come that counts and by quality they of course mean the amount of money spent per person or made per group tour, singles trekkers just don’t spend the same amount as group tours. Its the same in Thailand to a certain extent, the TAT (Thailand Tourism Association) is forever harking on about upping the quality of tourists that come to visit.

  10. Yes, this is what the world travel game is becoming. Independent travel is no longer a grass roots industry. The big boys have realized that they can game the system and make $$$. High income tourism or bust. It’s real sad to watch it all change. I guess we need to start mapping out new frontiers or go wallow in some hole somewhere.

    • Strange how low budget/long-term travelers are the ones to mark out new places to travel. Then 10-20 years later get kicked out in favor of short term high income tourists.

      I’m guessing this will always be the way as it’s easier to measure and quantify package tourists etc.

  11. Jason says:

    I read this article Dave the day it popped up on my reader. Life has been out of control at my end of late but I wanted to make sure I came back to comment on this one.

    A microsecond after I read the title to the post, my heart sank. After seeing the influx of mass tourism curb the numbers on Peru’s Inca Trail, of which I trekked many years ago (with only 5 other people seen in 4 days due to the shinning path running riot at the time).

    I could not believe what I was reading. ‘No not Nepal!’ , but yes it seems all to true. Agreeing with most of the comments above it seems like its all about funnelling the dollars to the government and the big boys in town.

    After completing various trekk’s and a small climb in Nepal. All of which were done with either Liza (my partner) or a small group of friends. It saddens me that others will not have that same sense of adventure that I had many years ago.

    Waltzing off from Gokyo village and heading into the opening arms of Cho Oyo and other surrounding 7000+ meter peaks with nothing more than a tent a stove and an adventurous spirit, is something that many adventurous people will now not be able to afford.

    Of course you will be able to go with your guide, but I feel over time the numbers on these now enforced guided tours will increase along with the cost.

    A sad day…….

    • Indeed Jason, it’s very sad news. Honestly speaking it’s so sad that I have to ignore it as much as possible otherwise it really gets to me.

      Either that or I’m hoping Pakistan will open up it’s tourist borders a little more as the Northern region would seem like the next logical area for independent trekking etc.

  12. linarclud38 says:

    As a family member of Zisimos Souflas who has gone missing whilst visiting Nepal, last seen at the Hotel Tibet in Namche Bazaar, and desperate for news of him. We are asking for help from all those who may have been travelling from Jiri to NAmche Bazaar and then onto Everest BAse camp between april 14th onwards if they met him on their journey. OUr anxiety has been increased by our awareness of a number of other missing tourists and tragedies of reported attacks on tourists. There are at least 12 other missing foreign tourist cases – AUBREY SACCO FROM COLORADO USA, Gareth Koch, 24, vanished in 2004 while Julian Wynne, 33, Alex Ratnasothy, 24, Lena Sessions, 23, an American, was hiking alone in Langtang in December 2012 when a knife-wielding man threatened to rape and kill her but she escaped Belgian hiker Debbie Mavea, 23, was found murdered recently (MAy 2012)and others. These horrific events are seen by the Nepali Government as bad publicity for their beautifl country and likely to have a damaging impact on tourism if they are not seen to try and do something.My plea is not to be cynical about their aims but to try and understand .Times and the world have changed and it is sadly no different in Nepal.I don’t want other families to feel like we do , with so many unanswered questions and the deep sense of sadness .

    • Hello,

      It’s important to address any tragedy in the world. And yes Nepal is no different in that regard.

      However an all out ban on solo trekking defies the very purpose of solo trekking. It will only start a snowball effect whereby soon tourists will not be allowed out at night alone on the streets of Kathmandu. The number of tourist related incidents on the streets of Nepal in regards to drug/alcohol/crime usage is a separate issue. But they are there.

      TAAN is not a government body. They are an association of trekking agencies with their own agenda.

      As I’m updating this post the Nepalese government have rejected the proposal from TAAN for a ban on solo trekking at this time.

  13. Mark Horrell says:

    You’ll be pleased to know it looks like common sense will prevail on this one. According to TAAN the Nepal government has announced it will be putting on hold the decision to ban solo trekking:
    http://www.taan.org.np/newsdetail/govt-puts-decision-to-ban-solo-trekking-on-hold

  14. Jo says:

    Does anyone know if these new rules are now definitely applied? And any confirmed costs?

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