More than 30 sick climbers have been evacuated from Mount Everest base camp. After Nepal eased quarantine rules in an effort to lure back climbers, fears are now growing that Covid may scupper a hoped-for bumper season on the world’s highest mountain.
Nepal’s tourism industry suffered a devastating blow last year when the pandemic prompted a complete shutdown of its summits, costing millions in lost revenue.
This year authorities have eased quarantine rules in an effort to lure back foreign adventurers and have issued climbing permits to more than 400 people, a new record.
An Everest permit alone costs $11,000 and climbers pay upward of $40,000 for an expedition.
But the warmer weather that ushers in safer conditions for scaling Nepal’s dangerous, snow-capped peaks has coincided with a deadly second wave of Covid-19 infections, with active cases in the country rising six-fold in the last two weeks.
Officials at a health clinic catering to the climbers say more than 30 people have been flown off the camp in recent weeks — they do not have the capacity to test for the disease.
Breathing is already difficult at high altitudes so any coronavirus outbreak among climbing groups could pose severe health risks.
Evacuating ill climbers from the remote peaks poses a major logistical challenge.
The country’s health system has been overwhelmed by the sudden spike, with hospitals filling fast and relatives of patients scrambling for medicine and intensive care beds.
More than 400 people in Nepal have died over the last two weeks after contracting Covid.