There’s no such thing as social distancing in a tent at 17,600 feet. Every year in April and May, hundreds of climbers assemble at Everest Base Camp in Nepal. They’re there to take advantage of the short season to ascend the world’s tallest peak, another 12,000 feet above them. And now they’re getting sick.
COVID-19 has settled in at Everest Base Camp. First there were anecdotal reports from climbers, and now hospital confirmation; at least 17 climbers have returned from Everest with coronavirus. There is no opportunity to space groups out – everyone on the mountain must climb within the same 10 to 15 day window of climbing weather, and more than half of the available terrain for the Base Camp fell off the mountain in an earthquake a few years ago.
“More than 30 people have already been evacuated [by air] to Kathmandu, with suspicion of pulmonary edema – later found to be positive for coronavirus,” posted climber Pawel Michalski to Facebook in April.
“So after #Everest, covid cases are recorded in another 8,000-er Dhaulagiri too. Some climbers/Sherpas are being flown from base camp to Kathmandu today for hospitalization, as per an expedition organizer. #COVID19 is almost everywhere !!!” tweeted climber Shristi Kafle, about another Nepali peak.
However, according to Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation, no COVID cases at EBC have been reported to the government.
This year, a nearly record number of people are expected to attempt the climb, after the mountain was closed through the 2020 climbing season. Nepal is heavily dependent on the tourism revenue generated by climbers, and last year’s closure hurt many communities which have no other source of income. Nepal, which has a soft border with neighboring India, is fighting a coronavirus surge currently. On Wednesday May 5th, Nepal reported 58 new deaths and 8605 new infections, out of a population of less than 30 million people.
Image: Daniel Prudek / Shutterstock.com