An expert climbing guide said on Saturday that a coronavirus outbreak on Mount Everest has infected at least 100 climbers and support staff, giving the first full estimate amid official Nepali denials of a COVID-19 cluster on the highest peak in the world.
Lukas Furtenbach of Austria, who last week became the only top supplier to halt an Everest expedition due to virus fears, said one of his foreign guides and six Nepalese Sherpa guides were tested positive.
“I think with all the confirmed cases that we know of now – confirmed since [rescue] pilots, insurance, doctors, expedition leaders – I have the positive tests so we can prove it,” Furtenbach told The Associated Press in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.
“We have at least 100 people who are at least COVID positive in base camp, and then the numbers could be something like 150 or 200,” he said.
He said it was obvious there were many cases at Everest Base Camp as he could visibly see people were sick and could hear people coughing in their tents.
A total of 408 foreign climbers have received permits to climb Everest this season, aided by several hundred Sherpa guides and support staff who have been stationed at base camp since April.
Nepalese mountaineering officials have denied there are any active cases this season among climbers and support staff at all base camps in the country’s Himalayan mountains. Mountaineering was closed last year due to the pandemic.
Nepalese authorities could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday. Other climbing teams have not announced any COVID-19 infections among their members or staff. Several climbers have said they tested positive after descending from Everest Base Camp.
Furtenbach said most teams on the mountain were not carrying virus test kits and before his team pulled out they had helped run tests and confirmed two cases.
Most teams are still at base camp, waiting and hoping for clear weather next week so they can make one last push to the top before the climbing season ends at the end of the month, Furtenbach said.
At the end of April, a Norwegian climber became the first to test positive at Everest Base Camp. He was airlifted to Kathmandu, where he was treated and later returned home.
Nepal is experiencing a resurgence of the virus, with record numbers of new infections and deaths. Last week, China canceled the climb on its side of Mount Everest over fears the virus could spread to the Nepalese side.
Nepal reported 8,607 new infections and 177 deaths on Friday, bringing the national total since the start of the pandemic to more than 497,000 infections and 6,024 deaths.