Mountaineers and authorities at Everest base camp in Nepal are seeing an increase in the number of climbers with Covid-19 symptoms and positive tests, increasing concerns of a severe outbreak and rapid increase COVID-19 cases at Everest.
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Officials from the base camp said they had received reports of 17 reported cases from hospitals in Kathmandu, where a number of climbers had been sent for treatment from the base camp and higher camps. Patients tested positive for coronavirus after returning from Everest base camp, according to the staff at a private hospital in Kathmandu, the CIWEC clinic.
The Nepalese government has denied having any awareness of positive COVID-19 cases at Everest base camp, raising fears that officials are downplaying the severity of the situation in order to avoid putting further pressure on the mountain to close it to expeditions.
The Nepalese government relies heavily on foreign climbers for revenue, which is why Everest was closed last year due to the pandemic.
Authorities are requiring visiting climbers to quarantine in Nepal before heading to base camp, but the climbing community is concerned that a serious outbreak on the mountain will be disastrous.
In recent weeks, the number of coronavirus cases in Nepal has risen dramatically, and the country now has the highest rate of infection among the countries bordering India, where a second wave has triggered a full-fledged crisis.
Officials from Nepal’s Department of Tourism, which manages expeditions directly, could not be contacted for comment, but Prem Subedi, Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation’s under-secretary, told the BBC that the ministry was unaware of any coronavirus cases at base camp. According to him, none of the Covid cases at Everest base camp has been confirmed to the Ministry of Tourism.
Cases that have been verified
The Himalayan Rescue Association, which runs a government-approved medical clinic at the base camp, has confirmed positive cases in some climbers flown out to Kathmandu by expedition teams. “We just got confirmation from Kathmandu of 17 positive cases [in climbers flown out of Everest],” said Lhakpa Nuru Sherpa, a Himalayan Rescue Association official.
“We’ve now asked expedition teams to notify us before flying out any sick members [to Kathmandu] so that we can keep track of what’s going on,” he said.
Dr Prakash Kharel, a colleague of Lhakpa Nuru Sherpa’s at the Everest base camp clinic, said the number of people with coronavirus-like symptoms like a persistent cough and fever was increasing daily. “Almost all climbers get a cough here,” Dr. Kharel said, “but we’re seeing people with other symptoms and making sure they remain in isolation.”
The CIWEC clinic in Kathmandu also told the BBC that it had seen Covid-positive climbers present as Everest patients.
There is no research facility for Covid 19
The lack of a coronavirus testing facility at the Everest base camp health clinic, according to mountaineers and officials, is also a significant handicap. “We asked for a testing facility, but the government said they couldn’t give it to us,” Dr. Kharel explained.
Some of the larger expedition teams have stated that they have brought their own testing kits to Everest base camp, allowing them to take prompt measures such as isolating and evacuating people.