At Everest Base Camp, 'Coughing Everywhere'

Some think Nepal is hiding real numbers of coronavirus cases to keep mountain open
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 5, 2021 7:44 AM CDT
At Everest Base Camp, Fears of an Outbreak
In this photo made on May 22, 2019, a long line of mountain climbers line a path on Mount Everest.   (Nirmal Purja/@Nimsdai Project Possible via AP)

This is the peak time of year to climb Mount Everest, before monsoon season hits. But the Guardian notes 2021's climbing season may now be up in the air, as a COVID outbreak at the base camp in Nepal has led to "many" infections in a country already experiencing the highest daily number of new coronavirus cases since October. Adding to the troubling news is the fact that it's not clear what "many" actually entails, as the Nepal Mountaineering Association has confirmed just three climbers and one guide have contracted the virus; a government tourism official tells the New York Times there have been only a few pneumonia cases, "no corona." One climber's description on social media, however, tells a different story of the situation, which she calls a "total s---storm." Other posts have noted as many as 30 cases, though base camp officials say after climbers were sent to hospitals in Kathmandu, they got word back on just 17 confirmed cases so far, per the BBC.

"You can hear people coughing everywhere," one climbing team leader at base camp says. A base camp doctor who spoke anonymously to ExplorersWeb says medical staff also haven't received the OK from Nepal's Health Ministry to do PCR testing when someone exhibits signs of COVID. "Khumbu cough and other respiratory ailments can look like COVID, so we basically treat all cases as if they were COVID," says the doctor. "Many climbers are isolated in their tents at the moment." This has all led to fears for climber safety in the brutal high-altitude environment, where they're already susceptible to altitude sickness, illness, and weakened immunity, per the New York Times. Still others are wondering why climbing permits were issued at all this year—in record numbers—considering the pandemic. The Times notes that Nepal had suffered a complete shutdown last year and is now "determined to revive its lucrative mountaineering industry." (Read more Mount Everest stories.)

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