COVID-19 infection on Mount Everest

Now the Corona pandemic has reached the highest mountain on earth. At least one case of corona has been reported from the base camp on the Nepalese south side of Mount Everest. The U.S. magazine Outside, citing a source at base camp, reports that a climber who was flown out with suspected high-altitude pulmonary edema was tested positive for COVID-19 at a hospital in Kathmandu. His team at base camp is in quarantine, he said.

Nepalese journalist Bhadra Sharma, who writes for the New York Times among other publications, even reports three infected climbers, referring to a doctor at base camp.

Invitation to the party

Lukas Furtenbach

As Lukas Furtenbach, head of the Austrian operator Furtenbach Adventures, informs me from Kathmandu, the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism, which is responsible for the Everest expeditions, has not yet commented on the media reports to the operators. Furtenbach points out that all Everest aspirants had to be tested for Corona upon arrival in Nepal and were only allowed to continue their journey if this test was negative. In his own team, all staff and clients would be tested regularly at base camp. There, masks are also mandatory, and climbers have to keep their distance.

“But I can see that there are still teams inviting everyone at basecamp for party via social media,” says Lukas. “It should be in the interest of everyone – operator, guide, expedition leader, sherpa and client – to do everything possible to avoid an outbreak in base camp. Because that would mean that the season will find an early end.”

First permit, first summit attempt

As of today (April 21), the Ministry of Tourism has issued 377 Everest permits to foreign climbers – almost as many as in the record-breaking year of 2019, when 381 climbing permits were issued.

Queue on the Everest summit ridge (on 22 May 2019)

A new directive from the ministry to avoid traffic jams on the summit ridge like two years ago is likely to make most operators shake their head: According to the motto “first come, first serve”, the first good weather window is to be used for a summit attempt by those teams to which the ministry has issued the first permits. This will especially please the team of Bahrain’s Royal Guard around Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed Al Khalifa. The financially strong Bahrainis had received the first Everest permit of this spring season.

Update at 9:45 p.m.: According to a Norwegian media report, the climber infected with COVID-19 is Norwegian Erlend Ness. He apparently contracted the virus on the way to the base camp, it said, adding that a Sherpa of the team was also tested positive,

Update 22 April: Mira Archaya, the director in charge at the Ministry of Tourism, only speaks of “rumors” to the Kathmandu Post: “Based on officials’ reports from base camp, we can say there is nothing to worry about. People also suffer from ‘Khumbu cough’ and it’s not a new phenomenon.” What ignorance!