COVID-19 has officially spread to the world’s highest mountain above sea level, after an outbreak infected at least 100 climbers and support staff on Mount Everest.
Lukas Furtenbach, an expert mountaineering guide, told the Associated Press that at least seven among his expedition tested positive. Six Nepali Sherpa guides, along with one of Furtenbach’s foreign guides, received positive test results. Thus far, he is the only guide to cancel his group’s ascension due to fears of the virus spreading further.
“I think with all the confirmed cases we know now—confirmed from pilots, from insurance, from doctors, from expedition leaders—I have the positive tests so we can prove this,” Furtenbach said. “We have at least 100 people minimum positive for COVID in base camp, and then the numbers might be something like 150 or 200.”
People in the Everest base camp were visibly ill, according to Furtenbach. Despite his claims, Nepalese mountaineering officials deny reports of a COVID outbreak. Mount Everest was closed to expeditions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Nepalese officials are eager to keep it open through the end of the climbing season in June 2021.
Mira Acharya, a director at the Department of Tourism overseeing climbing expeditions for Nepal’s mountains, told Reuters the government “had not received any notice of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Everest base camp.”
“If there were a few cases they were managed in time and well,” she said.
Nepalese officials have no intention of closing down the mountain before the climbing season ends. More than 400 climbing permits were issued for the 2021 season. These climbers mingle with Sherpas and support staff at the base camp, where the outbreak reportedly occurred.
A Norwegian climber was the first person on Mount Everest to test positive for COVID in April 2021. He was evacuated from the base camp and later returned home after receiving a positive test result.
As of late May 2021, Nepal is in the midst of a COVID-19 surge. The country has reported about 540,000 coronavirus cases and more than 6,900 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins.