As Cases Surge in Nepal, Covid-19 Reaches Mount Everest

Base camp officials have seen rising numbers of climbers with symptoms and positive coronavirus tests

A photo of the Mount Everest base camp with Mount Everest in the background
Nepal opened up Mount Everest and its other seven peaks this year in hopes of regaining tourists after their mountaineering economy took a devastating hit. Gunther Hagleitner via Wikicommons under CC BY 2.0

Reports of a Covid-19 outbreak at the Mount Everest base camp in Nepal have surfaced just as climbers return to the peak after a year of closure because of the pandemic. Base camp officials say they received reports of 17 confirmed cases from nearby hospitals treating climbers who exhibited symptoms of the virus, reports Navin Singh Khadka for the BBC.

Nepal re-opened Mount Everest and its other seven peaks in hopes of regaining tourists after the mountaineering economy took a devastating hit in 2020. Nepal is currently reporting record numbers of new coronavirus cases at more than 7,000 a day—the highest spike since fall, reports Peter Beaumont for the Guardian. Meanwhile, the country has issued 408 permits to climb Mount Everest, which exceeds the number of pre-pandemic permits authorized in 2019, reports the Guardian.

Climbers planning to ascend Mount Everest are anecdotally reporting rising numbers of positive cases on social media, reports Scott Neuman for NPR. In a Facebook post, Polish climber Pawel Michalski explained that 30 climbers were evacuated by air to the hospital in Kathmandu on suspicions of having pulmonary edema, which was later found to be symptoms Covid-19 when the climbers tested positive, NPR reports.

Despite the increasing number of reports, the Nepalese government denies any knowledge of Covid-19 cases at base camp. Because Mount Everest expeditions are a significant source of revenue for the country, some are concerned that officials are underestimating the severity of the situation to avoid closing the popular tourist attraction, reports the BBC. So far, the Nepal Mountaineering Association has reported only four confirmed cases this season, including three climbers and one local tour guide, reports the Guardian.

Expedition companies were advised to isolate anyone with symptoms and test both climbers and staff before they summited the mountain. But officials at the Everest base camp say the government did not approve a coronavirus testing facility at the mountain, reported Bhadra Sharma and Emily Schmall for the New York Times in April.

"We had requested a testing facility, but the government said they could not give the permission," Prakash Kharel, a Mount Everest base camp clinic doctor, tells the BBC. Some expedition teams brought their own testing kits.

Nepalese officials set some requirements for entering the country, including showing a negative Covid-19 RT-PCR test or providing a vaccination certificate at the airport in Kathmandu. However, tourism ministry officials and expedition agencies acknowledged that Nepal did not have a protocol for testing or isolating climbers should someone test positive for Covid-19, the New York Times reports.

"We have no other options," Rudra Singh Tamang, the head of Nepal's tourism department, tells the New York Times. "We need to save the mountaineering economy."

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