Mount Everest – peak of COVID-19 negligence

Mount Everest

It almost seems as if the weather god has also had enough of all the lies, half-truths and cover-ups in connection with the corona outbreak at Everest base camp. A cyclone raging on the west coast of India is causing snow and strong winds to hit Mount Everest over the next few days as well. The next good weather window actually expected for the middle of the week probably falls flat – and with it for the time being also the second large summit wave. Only towards the end of the week, the wind should subside again.

On Saturday, Lukas Furtenbach had – as reported – broken the wall of silence and talked turkey. The Austrian abandoned his expedition with immediate effect and referred to the escalating COVID-19 situation in base camp: “We all know that we have a massive outbreak in base camp. All teams. (Helicopter) Pilots know, insurances know, HRA (the Himalayan Rescue Association, which runs an infirmary at base camp) knows. Still sending people up is negligent from a legal point of view and inhuman from a moral point of view.” Furtenbach explained that climbers who become infected may not show symptoms, such as fever and breathing problems, until several days later at Camp 3 at nearly 7,200 meters or even higher. This could escalate into a “real severe problem,” including death, he said.

Parties at base camp, mo tests and parties at base camp

Lukas Furtenbach accuses

The other expedition leaders at Everest Base Camp don’t seem to care. So far, no one has followed Furtenbach’s decision. Instead, the Austrian has had to listen to accusations that “we are too weak and are now using COVID as an alibi.” Even the news about the premature end of the Chinese expedition on the Tibetan north side apparently did not lead to anyone doing any soul-searching and thinking about whether their own behavior was still responsible. The Chinese-Tibetan authorities had explicitly referred to the corona situation on the Nepalese south side of Everest as justification.

His suggestion to have the entire base camp tested after the first COVID-19 cases was ignored, says Lukas Furtenbach: “We tested even more, while others never started to test, or, stopped testing after too many sherpas or members were tested positive.” Equally grossly negligent are the parties that continue at base camp despite the risk of corona, Furtenbach pointed out. Photos and videos circulating on social media confirm his claims: partying climbers, without masks, without safety distances.

Already more than 5200 dead

All this against the background of the corona drama that is currently unfolding in Nepal – not only in the cities, but also in the countryside. On Monday, the authorities registered 9,198 new COVID-19 infections. Currently, there are more than 110,000 cases in the Himalayan state. Hospitals across the country continue to lack beds and oxygen to treat the critically ill patients. Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 465,000 infections have been counted in Nepal, and 5,215 people have died from COVID-19. The number of unreported cases is likely to be high, given the lack of testing capacity.

Sunrise over Mount Everest and Lhotse (r.)

And what does the Nepalese government say about the events on Mount Everest? The Ministry of Tourism, which negligently issued more Everest permits (408) than ever before for this spring despite the pandemic, still denies that there is any corona problem in the mountains. This is almost the bigger scandal than the one at base camp. If there are more deaths after the two during the first Everest summit wave, I would strongly advise the bereaved families to insist on an independent autopsy. They should have it investigated whether COVID-19 played a role – and, if so, then sue those responsible for negligent homicide.