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Mountaineers and authorities at Everest Base Camp in Nepal told the BBC they are seeing increasing numbers of climbers showing symptoms of Covid-19 and increasing numbers of positive tests, raising fears of a serious outbreak .
Base camp officials said they had received reports of 17 confirmed cases from hospitals in the capital Kathmandu, where a number of climbers were sent from base camp and upper camps for treatment.
And staff at a private hospital in Kathmandu, the CIWEC clinic, confirmed to the BBC that patients tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving from Everest base camp.
The Nepalese government has so far denied knowing of any positive cases at Everest base camp, fearing that authorities are downplaying the scale of the situation over fears it will press to close the mountain to expeditions.
Foreign climbers are a major source of income for the Nepalese government, which shut down Everest last year during the pandemic.
Authorities are demanding that visiting climbers be quarantined in Nepal before heading to base camp, but the climbing community has expressed concern that a serious outbreak in the mountain would be devastating.
The number of coronavirus cases has risen sharply in Nepal in recent weeks, and the country has the highest infection rate among countries neighboring India, where a second wave has sparked a full-blown crisis.
Officials from Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism, which directly oversees the expeditions, could not be reached for comment, but Prem Subedi, Undersecretary at Nepal’s Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, said told the BBC that the ministry was not aware of any cases of the coronavirus. at base camp.
“None of the Covid cases at Everest base camp have been reported to the Ministry of Tourism to date,” he said.
The Himalayan Rescue Association, which operates a government-licensed medical clinic at the base camp, told the BBC it had received confirmation of positive cases in some climbers flown to Kathmandu by crews shipping.
<< We have just received from Kathmandu the confirmation of 17 positive cases [in climbers flown out of Everest]Said Lhakpa Nuru Sherpa, an official with the Himalayan Rescue Association.
“We have now asked the expedition teams to let us know before they leave their members. [to Kathmandu] who get sick so we know what’s going on, ”he said.
Lhakpa Nuru Sherpa’s colleague at the Everest Base Camp clinic, Dr Prakash Kharel, said the number of people with coronavirus-like symptoms, such as persistent cough and fever, was increasing every day. .
“Almost all climbers have a cough here, but we see people with other symptoms, and we make sure they stay isolated,” said Dr Kharel.
The CIWEC clinic in Kathmandu also confirmed to the BBC that it has seen climbers who are positive for Covid come to their homes as Everest patients.
“We have had patients from the Everest region who tested positive at our hospital a few weeks ago,” said Astha Pant, a staff member. “We cannot share the number of people or any other information at this time.”
One of the large expedition teams, who asked not to be named, told the BBC that some of their members had already tested positive, but had now recovered. Norwegian mountaineer Erlend Ness told the BBC he tested positive for the virus three times at two different hospitals in Kathmandu last month.
Ness was initially believed to be suffering from altitude sickness, but was diagnosed with coronavirus after being airlifted from base camp. Climbers have raised concerns that symptoms of the coronavirus may be mistaken for the similar effects of being at altitude.
“You can hear people coughing everywhere,” Furtenback Adventures team leader Lukas Furtenback told the BBC from base camp. “But it’s not just the regular cough that climbers get here. You can see that people are in pain and have other symptoms like fever and body aches.”
According to the Tourism Department website, the government had issued 394 Everest climbing permits for this climbing season, as of April 26. This would allow more than 1,500 people to be on the mountain, the majority being support staff.
Everest base camp officials said climbers returning from Kathmandu were also concerned about Covid treatment or after an acclimatization rotation to adjust to the altitude.
“They may have recovered, but they could bring the virus with them as things get serious in Kathmandu,” the army official said. “So we recommended climbers to do rotational acclimatization at places below base camp, instead of going to Kathmandu.”
No Covid test facility
Mountaineers and Everest base camp officials also said the lack of a coronavirus testing center at the base camp health clinic was a major handicap.
“We had requested a testing facility, but the government said it couldn’t give permission,” Dr Kharel said.
Some of the large expedition teams said they brought their own test kits to Everest base camp, which helped them take timely action like isolating people and evacuating them.
Himalayan Rescue Association officials said they had only recently received confirmed reports of 17 positive cases of coronavirus among mountaineers at Everest base camp.
“It is unfortunate that we have not received the details of the confirmed cases and the identity of the climbers during this time,” an army official at the base camp told the BBC.
“It would have helped us to trace the contacts and contain the spread much earlier,” he said. “We could then have isolated climbers who had come into contact with those who tested positive much earlier.”