Nepal’s decision to allow people to continue to climb its Himalayan peaks as a vicious Covid-19 wave sweeps the country was dealt a further blow after 19 more climbers tested positive for the virus.
Last month it was reported that the pandemic had reached Everest base camp and though officials later denied it, climbers have reported a wave of infections that were being covered up.
Now it has emerged that 19 people – foreign climbers and sherpas – have tested positive at the base camp of Dhaulagiri, the world’s seventh highest mountain and part of the same range as Everest.
Mingma Sherpa, the chair of Seven Summit Treks, who is running an expedition at Dhaulagiri base camp, confirmed that four climbershad been flown to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, on Tuesday after they were found to be positive in rapid diagnostic tests at the camp.
Three positive cases had been detected at Dhaulagiri on Monday and a further 11 were found on Wednesday.
“They are currently going through tests in Kathmandu hospital, we couldn’t airlift others today [Wednesday] because of the weather,” said Sherpa. Other climbers would be rescued on Thursday, he said.
The Nepal army spokesman Brig Gen Shantosh Ballave Poudyal also confirmed that three Sherpas from the army’s mountain cleaning campaign had tested positive. Nepal’s army has recently launched a cleaning campaign to collect waste from six mountains including Everest and Dhaulagiri.
The Mexican climber Viridiana Álvarez wrote on Instagram: “Covid is in Dhaulagiri BC. Many sherpas and climbers are positive and have been evacuated. Still waiting for tests for everyone.”
However, Mohan Bahadur, the director of the department of tourism, which issues permits to the climbers, said he was not aware of the incident.
At 8,167 metres, Dhaulagiri is one of the world’s highest peaks and popular with international climbers. So far 33 members of five expedition teams have been granted permits to climb Dhaulagiri this season.
Overall, Nepal has issued climbing permits to 740 climbers this season, including 408 for Everest, but the Dhaulagiri outbreak has thrown into doubt the possibility of Nepal’s climbing season continuing. International flights have already been suspended until 14 May.
Nepal is in the grip of a fast-growing Covid-19 wave that the ministry of health has warned threatens to bring the healthcare system to the brink of collapse.
On Wednesday Nepal reported 8,659 new cases, a record high, and 58 deaths in 24 hours. Many fear the country will suffer a similar fate as its neighbour India, which is battling a deadly second wave. A shortage of hospital beds and oxygen have been reported in Nepal’s cities.