Sunday Oct 2, 2022
Sunday Oct 2, 2022

Are climbers at Mt Everest, other base camps infected by COVID 19

Govt authorities seem to be in the dark about the issue

2021 May 05, 16:10,
File - Expedition team members are seen around the tents set up at the Everest Base Camp in Khumbu region, Nepal on May 10, 2017. Photo courtesy: Surajaley

As per a report in the BBC, the number of climbers at the Everest Base Camp with COVID-19 symptoms and those who have tested positive is rising. There are even local media reports that the situation is similar in some other base camps. However, the intriguing aspect is that when NepalNews tried to verify the report with concerned authorities they either did not have any information about it or could not be contacted over the phone.

The BBC has stated that there have been 17 confirmed cases in hospitals in Kathmandu after these climbers were sent to the capital from the base camp and higher camps for their COVID tests.

The CIWEC Hospital in Kathmandu also confirmed to NepalNews that they had received climbers who had tested positive after they returned from the Everest Base Camp.

However, Santa Bir Lama, President of Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), mentioned that he was not aware of any climbers at the Everest Base Camp who had been infected with the coronavirus. He stated that the Department of Tourism is the right authority to get information.

Similarly, NepalNews spoke to Ang Tshering Sherpa, Immediate Past President of NMA, to find out what the real situation was like. “The Department of Tourism (DoT) is responsible for all issues regarding the climbers and we submit the details of all the climbers to the department,” he said, adding that the DoT has not informed the association till date about any climber being infected with the coronavirus.

“There are reports out about climbers who had reached the Everest Base Camp being infected with COVID-19 but I can’t say anything regarding the issue because any such information has to come from the concerned authority which is the Department of Tourism,” Sherpa added.

Meanwhile, Astha Pant, Head of Business Development at CIWEC Hospital, did confirm that they had received climbers who had arrived from the Everest Base Camp who tested positive for the coronavirus. “I cannot divulge all the details but what I can tell you is that a couple of weeks back we did receive climbers from the Everest Base Camp who tested COVID positive,” she mentioned.

NepalNews managed to speak with Mohan Bahadur GC, Information Officer at the Department of Tourism. He said that he was on the way to the Base Camp and would reach there in a couple of days. “I will be able to tell you about the exact condition only when I reach the Base Camp and take stock of the situation,” he said.

The Department of Tourism, on April 30, had released the data on expedition permits for the spring season, which stated that 43 teams had received permits to climb Mt Everest. It mentioned that the 43 teams that had received the permits comprised of 408 members including 93 women.

As per the department, altogether 742 climbers of 85 expedition teams including 43 for Mt Everest have received permission for this season. Fourteen teams have received permission to scale Mt Lhotse. Similarly, five teams for Mt Dhaulagiri and four teams for Mt Annapurna have been given permission for this spring season.

Taking these figures into account what is worrying is that if the virus spreads rapidly among climbers and their support teams then does the government have the proper medical facilities to provide immediate treatment at those high-altitude locations. Also, is the government prepared for immediate evacuations of climbers who do get infected with the coronavirus?

It has been reported that the government received a total of Rs 714.8 million in royalties from the climbers this season. Mt Everest alone contributed Rs 660 million in royalty. With so much of revenue being generated through the climbers, it is important that the government provide all the basic facilities to them. But the problem here is reports are surfacing about climbers being infected with the coronavirus but nobody in authority has any information regarding it.

While speaking to NepalNews, Prem Subedi, Information Officer at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, stated that the ministry has not received any report of climbers at the Everest Base Camp being infected with COVID-19. “I have read about it in the media but the ministry has not received any such report,” he said.

“One of our teams is at the Base Camp and I spoke to them yesterday but there was no such report from the team. In fact, there was just one incident of a climber suffering from diarrhoea at Camp 2,” said Subedi. “Moreover, outsiders who reach the area are asked to stay in quarantine.”

NepalNews did try getting information from officials of Nepal Tourism Board too. The officer who picked up the phone directed the query to another official but after numerous attempts, nobody could be reached to comment or throw light on this.

The one aspect that is very disturbing about this whole episode is that reports are out but no person in authority who is directly associated with the sector has any concrete information on whether or not climbers have been infected with COVID-19 and if so what happens next.


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