COVID Out of Control at Everest Base Camp

COVID-19 Everest
Too little, too late? Expeditions teams are fencing in their camps at Everest. Photo: Himalayan Rescue Association

COVID cases in Everest Base Camp are multiplying, but the government of Nepal clings to a strategy of denial, censorship, and threats.

COVID infections continue to spread not just at Everest BC but along the Khumbu. At Everest Base Camp, cases might be 10 times the four known infections, according to Alan Arnette. Sources in Kathmandu spoke of about 20 people evacuated with COVID symptoms. However, hospitals are not allowed to provide information on patients. Nor are the expedition outfitters or the climbers themselves.

Censorship

Some people in contact with the climbing teams report censorship and threats to the outfitters. The government has warned them that they will be “treated unfavorably” when applying for climbing permits next year if they spread the news of the COVID outbreak at Everest Base Camp.

Tourism officials “have been reportedly making individual phone calls to doctors where COVID-infected climbers were treated, doctors at EBC, and expedition agencies to block COVID info,” the Everest News blog tweeted. “Outsiders or media [are] not allowed at EBC tents without permission.”

It went on: “A group of outsiders who recently visited EBC after an outfitter allowed them, tested positive for COVID-19 before returning to Lukla. [They] are now receiving treatment in Kathmandu.”

Everest Base Camp, population 1,000

According to the Department of Tourism, the number of permits for Everest reached 394 yesterday, breaking 2019’s record. With guides, cooks, and other staff, Everest Base Camp is essentially a small, cramped town with a population of 1,000.

Alex Txikon, on his way to Everest for a no-O2 ascent, is concerned but is going ahead, he told ExplorersWeb from Pheriche today. “I brought a fresh negative PCR test from home, and I took another after arriving in Kathmandu,” he said. “Once I got the negative result, I could leave for the Khumbu.”

Alex Txikon, today in Pheriche, worries what he might find in Base Camp. Photo: Alex Txikon

Other sources told ExplorersWeb that forged PCR certificates are easy to obtain in Kathmandu, for about $60. So while Txikon got a proper test, it is not clear whether every visitor has bothered to do so.

COVID worsening throughout Nepal

Meanwhile, the situation in Nepal itself is worsening quickly, largely thanks to the 1,770km long porous border with COVID-ravaged India. The border closed during the virus’s first wave last year, but it has since reopened.

Kathmandu will enter another lockdown on Thursday, and road transportation will cease. A second border closure is under discussion.

We don’t know how this could affect climbers and trekkers in the Himalaya. For now, both international and domestic flights are operating normally.

Denying evidence is not a good strategy. News leaks from Base Camp anyway, increasing the uncertainty and seriously damaging the credibility of official sources. Reality contradicts the Department of Tourism’s “Good News Only” politics.

In Nepal, the number of active cases surpassed 20,000 today, according to The Kathmandu Post. “The country reports 3,442 new cases and 12 deaths,” it stated.

“We have detected the UK variant and the double-mutant variant detected in India,” Krishna Prasad Paudel, the director of Nepal’s Epidemiology and Disease Control Department, told Reuters.

Hospitals near the Indian border are already crowded and in a precarious situation. Nepal’s vaccination campaign has nearly ceased because of shortages. Most vaccines come from India, which is dealing with such horrid infection rates that it has stopped exporting vaccines. It needs them for its own population.

The Narayani Hospital, near the Indian border. Photo: Niraj Singh/The Khatmandu Post

Hospitals in crisis

“The virus is mutating very fast,” said Rabindra Pandey, a public health expert. “What started in India has now entered Nepal.” If the trend continues for another week, he adds, the already-stretched hospitals will run out of beds.

Nepal’s former king Gyanendra and his wife tested positive for the virus after returning from India to attend a religious festival. They are undergoing treatment at a private facility in Kathmandu.

“The situation is really frightening,” said Prakash Thapa, a doctor at Bheri hospital in Nepalgunj, a city bordering India.

He said the hospital was inundated with coronavirus patients requiring intensive care and ventilators.

“Even children and young people come in critical condition, and patients are even sleeping on the floor and corridors,” he said.

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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barbara
barbara
3 months ago

thanx a lot for the couraged written informations. it seems that only rational decisions by the exped teams themselves will prevent a new form of “everest desaster”. one gets a feeling of the economical crises nepal and it’s tourism-dependent people are going through. – so it’s the turn of the well fitted better bedded rich expedguests to stop this growing bc-desaster. now.
– not to forget that it doesn’t need a lot of infectious sportswomen to spread the concerning “indian” variant all over the world. – incubation time is much longer and about 19 days!

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
3 months ago
Reply to  barbara

Barbara, where did you get info about 19 day incubation period? That would be EXTREMELY worrying because all testing protocols assume a much shorter incubation period.

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barbara
barbara
3 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

the new strains like b117 & b1671, too have knowingly a longer incubation time up to 20 or even more days.i read it again – think, it was an aistralian case – a few days ago somewhere in the news. think you’ll find it easily confirmed via googling! in germany cases with b117 do have a longer quarantine-time than the old wildstrain caused ones.

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Don Paul
Don Paul
3 months ago

I can’t wait for Summit Day.

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
3 months ago

No words.
But late arrivals like Txikon still continuing their expedition? Crazy.

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Delwyne
Delwyne
3 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

I really hope that if he does get sick he avoids the temptation to join with those who are trying to blame the results of their poor decision making on Nepal.

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Rodrigo Granzotto Peron
Rodrigo Granzotto Peron
3 months ago

Gorgeous article of my favourite journalist just when COVID is worsening on Nepal: “Massive Surge Reported Tuesday as 4364 Covid-19 cases surfaced” (Himalayan Times). Poor climbers/high altitude tourists, not only cold, exhaustion, AMS and avalanche are the threats these days …

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Victor van der Meulen
Victor van der Meulen
3 months ago

And then complain/worry about your hospital bills because you insurer doesn’t pay COVID related care. I wonder what these folks were thinking. That COVID would stop at the edge of EBC?

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J Sparky
J Sparky
3 months ago

….And just when you thought Nepal couldn’t become a further embarrassment among the mountaineering community.

“Good news only!” ???
Good luck hiding your 2021 EBC super-spreader-party from the world, Nepal!

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Uttam
Uttam
3 months ago

may be the coronavirus too wants to summit everest [& why not] by piggybacking on the climbers … to find out what all the annual spring circus on everest is all about!

the nepali govt’s censorship is predictable. same in India. same in china. don’t know about Pakistan. the governments of all these 8000ers-hosting countries leave much to desire. beautiful mountains, ugly governments. the uglier the governments, the more beautiful the mountains. Hehe!

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Last edited 3 months ago by Uttam
stefan
stefan
3 months ago

“COVID Out of Control at EBC” – ?! You can leave aside the alarmist quotes from the press and be kind enough to check the real, official data. When writing the following articles, can you take into account the population of Nepal? 29.5 million.
https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/nepal/

By the way, Yes, 3000 died of COVID recently in a day, but at least 27,000 die every day in India, anyway. Population: 1,4 BILLION.

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
3 months ago
Reply to  stefan

What callous disregard for lives in India and Nepal! Whether the population is small or large, These are people who had families and loved ones, they suffered in dying and their families are suffering now. And they didn’t have to die, they got infected because politicians and the business community told everyone it was time to “get back to normal”. How high does the mortality have to be before you show some compassion? Furthermore, anyone who knows anything about India knows that the 3000/day number is an extreme undercount. The actual number could be 10 or more times higher. Hospitals… Read more »

PolarQuest
2 months ago
Reply to  MuddyBoots

Blah blah blah …no wonder yer boots are muddy ! Perhaps stefan has the ability to see beyond the self importance of “humanity” and see the real disease that is crippling this planet…billions of humans, many like you, who seem to place human life at the pinnacle of importance. The real “tragedy” is what all these billions are doing to this planet, so show some “compassion” for that.

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MuddyBoots
MuddyBoots
2 months ago
Reply to  stefan

Nepal has now declared a lockdown of Kathmandu, Some airlines have already stopped flying to Nepal. The CDC warning says, “Because of the current situation in Nepal even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid nonessential travel to Nepal.” And according to the Nepali Times: “In fact, data shows that the rate of increase in the number of cases may be even higher in Nepal than India’s national average, and public health experts warn that the implications are even more dire because of a comparatively less developed health infrastructure. “Both the government and the… Read more »

sangeeta sbahl
2 months ago
Reply to  stefan

Isn’t Apathy totally missing here?

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lmontejo
Dr. Leo Montejo
2 months ago
Reply to  sangeeta sbahl

You mean empathy???

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lmontejo
Dr. Leo Montejo
2 months ago

As a medical doctor who has spent much time in the Himalayas and Nepal, the last people I blame here are the Nepalese… The blame-game should be in this order: The mountaineers: Climbers showed up in KTM during a world pandemic, without being fully vaccinated, and in a country which has a health infrastructure that is not comparable to Western standards. Most climbers at EBC have a college education and knew very well what they were getting into. The outfitters: Expeditions which showed up at EBC without Rapid Test Kits, or who did not require vaccinations from their customers, knew… Read more »

Lord Kris
Lord Kris
2 months ago

Spreading fear and panic as usual Angela !!

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