Kathmandu, Nepal – A Norwegian mountaineer hoping to climb Everest on Thursday confirmed that he tested positive, in a blow to Nepal’s hopes for an exceptional climbing season on the highest peak in the world. The pandemic wiped out last year’s season, but Nepal loosened quarantine rules in an effort to attract more climbers despite the difficulties of treating them if they contract the virus.
“My diagnosis is COVID-19,” Erlend Ness told AFP in a Facebook message. “I’m fine now … The hospital is busy [of me]. “
Ness was evacuated from the slopes by helicopter and taken to a hospital in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu after spending time at Everest Base Camp.
Norwegian broadcaster NRK, who interviewed him, reported that a Sherpa in his group had also tested positive.
“I really hope none of the others get infected with the corona high up in the mountains. It is impossible to evacuate people by helicopter when they are above 8,000 meters (26,000 feet),” Ness told NRK.
Breathing is already difficult at high altitudes, so any outbreak of disease among climbers presents great health risks.
“The plan was to get high up in the mountains quickly to make sure we wouldn’t get infected … I was unlucky and could have done more on my own when it comes to health precautions,” added Ness.
A Kathmandu hospital confirmed that it had taken in patients from Everest who had contracted the coronavirus but could not provide a number.
“I cannot share the details, but some evacuees from Everest have tested positive,” Prativa Pandey, the medical director of the CIWEC hospital in Kathmandu, told AFP.
But Mira Acharya, a spokesperson for Nepal’s tourism department, said she has not received any reports of COVID-19 among climbers so far.
“One person was evacuated on April 15, but we have been informed that he suffers from pneumonia and is being treated in solitary confinement. This is all the information we have received,” he said.
Dawa Steven Sherpa of Asian Trekking said everyone at base camp was worried.
Nepal has issued 377 permits to climb the mountain this year and the final number is expected to exceed 381 distributed in 2019.
A city of tents that is home to hundreds of foreign climbers and support personnel is rapidly growing in the foothills of Everest and other peaks in the area.
In recent seasons, Everest has seen a surge in the number of climbers attempting to climb the slope, leading to overcrowding that has been blamed for multiple deaths.
Eleven people died climbing the highest peak in the world in 2019, with four. One day 354 people lined up to reach the summit from the southern side of Nepal and the northern approach of Tibet.
To alleviate crowding, Nepal’s tourism ministry has announced rules limiting the number of people who can climb the mountain per window of suitable time.
The expedition organizers were told to either send teams to the summit strictly in accordance with permit numbers or to limit the number of climbers climbing concurrently.