Covid reaches Everest as base camp climbers infected

Ben Farmer
·2 min read
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2015, file photo, Mt. Everest is seen from the way to Kalapatthar in Nepal
FILE - In this Nov. 12, 2015, file photo, Mt. Everest is seen from the way to Kalapatthar in Nepal

Nepal has reported its first cases of Covid-19 among climbers trying to conquer Everest, only weeks after the world's highest mountain reopened with strict public health precautions.

Several climbers have tested positive for coronavirus infection in the capital, Kathmandu, after being flown from the mountain's base camp, the New York Times reported.

The infections could be a blow for hopes of a revival to Nepal's lucrative mountain tourism industry, after it was devastated by lockdowns in 2020.

Climbers were welcomed back last month after local officials said they would institute a strict regime of testing and social distancing for those attempting the 29,032 ft peak.

Yet mountaineering blogs have reported some expeditions are disregarding the rules, with climbers failing to wear masks or keep their distances while at base camp waiting to begin their ascents.

Prativa Pandey, medical director at the CIWEC Hospital which has identified the infections said officials at base camp were trying to stop climbers from mingling with one another.

“We are taking it up with the health ministry to see what we can do for the safety of climbers and staff up there,” Dr Pandey told the paper.

Climbers have had to show negative test results on arrival and quarantine themselves. They have also reportedly had to take on extra insurance this year.

“We have no other options,” Rudra Singh Tamang, the head of Nepal’s tourism department, said earlier this month “We need to save the mountaineering economy.”

The first victim was thought to be suffering from altitude sickness last week when they were air lifted from base camp back to Kathmandu. But testing showed they were infected by coronavirus.

As in neighbouring India, Nepal had hoped it had seen off the worst of the pandemic and cases had fallen sharply from a peak last autumn. The daily infection tally has begun to rise quickly in recent weeks though. The country has recorded nearly 300,000 cases and around 3,000 deaths. Nepal began is vaccination campaign in January with AstraZeneca vaccines provided by India but suspended it last month following lack of supply.

The base camp flare-up could jeopardise further attempts to reach the top. “Certainly, everybody agrees that a Covid outbreak in Everest Base Camp would spell the end of the season,” wrote Angela Benavides on the Explorersweb site.