17 Everest climbers were evacuated off the mountain and tested positive, the BBC reported.
Nepal government officials have refused to acknowledge any cases at base camp.
Last year's climbing season was canceled due to the pandemic, which was a blow to Nepal's economy.
The Everest climbing season is under threat from a coronavirus outbreak among climbers, but officials in the cash-strapped country refuse to admit anything is wrong.
At least 17 climbers have tested positive for the coronavirus after being evacuated off the mountain, an official with the Himalayan Rescue Association told the BBC on Wednesday. The HRA operates a government-authorized clinic at Everest base camp, called the Everest ER.
The exact number of active cases in base camp is unknown since climbers aren't being required to undergo regular testing, and the government of Nepal has maintained repeatedly that there aren't any cases. The Nepal Department of Tourism has not responded to Insider's email for comment.
An unnamed doctor at the base camp clinic told Explorers Web over the weekend that the government of Nepal had denied their request to do PCR testing of climbers.
A potential blow to the economy
A coronavirus outbreak on Everest would be bad news for Nepal, whose economy relies heavily on tourism and the climbing season.
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, and its decision to shut down the mountain over COVID-19 fears last year left thousands of people in financial difficulty and its tourism industry struggling.
Everest is an economy in and of itself, with Nepal charging climbers $11,000 for a permit to climb the tallest mountain in the world.
This year, the government issued 408 climbing permits, the most since the peak was first climbed in 1953, according to The New York Times.
That's also 15 more than the last climbing season in 2019, when the Nepali government was criticized for overcrowding on the summit that led to multiple deaths.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, this year's climbers were required to quarantine after arriving in Nepal, and are not allowed to socialize outside of their respective expedition teams.
This bubble environment seemed to have worked for some teams, with the climbing blogger Alan Arnette writing on Wednesday that he had heard from many teams that haven't experienced a single case.
But that hasn't stopped cases from cropping up.
One of the climbers this year, Matt Dawson, told Insider late last month that there were "discussions of a couple cases going around."
One of the first reported to get sick was the British climber Steve Harris, who told MailOnline that he was initially taken to the mountainside town of Namche Bazaar and diagnosed with high-altitude pulmonary adema (HAPE), an altitude-triggered illness that causes the lungs to fill with liquid.
"I wasn't asked about or offered a COVID-19 test. After four days in Namche, I was medevac-ed by helicopter to hospital in Kathmandu, where I was tested and confirmed positive for COVID-19 and pneumonia and spent a week in intensive care," Harris told MailOnline on Monday.
'People coughing everywhere'
COVID-19 presents a tricky situation for Everest climbers in that it shares symptoms with other medical issues that Everest climbers get every year, including HAPE and the so-called "Khumbu cough," a cough named after the valley that climbers trek through to get to Everest.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the HRA's clinic said that the most common complaint among climbers this year has been a cough.
"This year it's especially challenging in light of the COVID pandemic," the Everest ER post said. "We do not have the capacity for rapid point of care testing at the moment."
Everest ER added that it had seen 227 patients so far this season, and that 35 cases required evacuation.
One of the expedition guides on the mountain this year, Lukas Furtenbach, told the BBC that the kind of coughs he's been hearing don't sound normal.
"You can hear people coughing everywhere," Furtenbach said. "But this is not just the regular cough that mountaineers catch here. You can make it out that people are in pain and they have other symptoms like fever and body aches."
The situation in Nepal worsens
Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak has been worsening in Nepal. The capital of Kathmandu went into lockdown last month amid a record number of daily deaths and cases.
Adrian Ballinger, an expedition leader who pulled out of the Everest climbing season this year over COVID-19 concerns, told CNN that he thinks an exodus could be coming.
"I think we'll start to see some climbers leaving because they just feel that they're on the wrong side of the moral question, with the Kathmandu outbreak being so strong. They're sitting there with thousands of bottles of oxygen," Ballinger said.
Furtenbach told CNN that if more cases continue to crop up, he thinks the government "will have to do something."
"I think they tried to do the right thing, they tried to save the season. But maybe it's not the right thing," Furtenbach said.
Read the original article on Insider