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COVID in Everest Base Camp: An expert is striking

Everest in 2016; Photo credit: Mário Simoes

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Reports of a COVID outbreak on Everest have sparked concern and control. The expedition leader Adrian Ballinger spoke to us about the problems related to COVID security on Everest.

Internet headlines made headlines this week after it was reported that a climber was on the mountain. Everest tested positive for COVID-19. Outside the magazine quoted an anonymous source According to reports, a person had to be taken from the mountain to a hospital in Kathmandu for alleged high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). Outside, it was reported that the unidentified climber tested positive for COVID upon arriving at the hospital.

Shortly thereafter, ExplorersWeb identified the hospitalized man as Norwegian climber Erlend Ness. Some today News agencies in Asia reported that Ness confirmed his COVID diagnosis to the French news agency AFP. However, GearJunkie has not been able to confirm any reports from AFP or Ness of its diagnosis.

So we turned to Adrian Ballinger, adventurer and founder of Alpenglow expeditionsthat routinely takes customers to Everest. Ballinger previously made the decision not to bring the climbers up Everest this season his concern about the pandemic and the safety of climbers.

Although we do not yet know whether there is a confirmed COVID situation on Everest, Ballinger has weighed up why the risk of such an outbreak is so great on the highest peak in the world.

Adrian Ballinger: COVID risk on Everest

GearJunkie: Why is the risk of COVID on Everest so high?

Ballinger: The first apparently confirmed test of COVID-19 on Everest does not surprise anyone who has worked there in recent years. We can be almost certain that as early as this year there have been other cases that have been misdiagnosed or hidden, and that there will be more.

The mountain has almost record numbers on its Nepalese side (the Chinese side of the mountain is closed to foreigners), the camps are overcrowded, and the daily mix of team members, support staff and countless people traveling to base camp can easily catch the virus infested spread.

This comes with the challenge of diagnosing COVID early when so many members and workers are experiencing COVID-like symptoms from altitude sickness or “normal” upper respiratory diseases. It’s the perfect setup for a super spreader event. This goes hand in hand with rising cases in Nepal and a massive outbreak in India, which has an open border with Nepal.

Do you know the existing security protocols and how have they been ineffective?

[There is] does not manage security logs [the] Government. Quarantines or test plans were reportedly not enforced in Kathmandu before the climbers set out for the mountain.

Some teams try to isolate themselves from other teams, but this is almost impossible as the daily supplies of yak and porter come from the valley. Nepalese cooks and Sherpa spend time with friends and family at base camp and return to their villages in peace – and foreign climbers bend the rules.

Have you seen high demand for this post-COVID season?

Yes.

What do you think needs to happen now?

Similar to any problems on the Nepalese side of Everest, the Nepalese government must be actively involved in the base camp and mountain, and indeed have the authority to punish and remove teams that do not conform to common sense rules. Another good step would be regular rapid tests at base camp for all workers involved in mountaineering.

Has there been a consensus among other guides to abstain from expeditions, or does everyone decide for themselves?

Although we did not all come to the same conclusion and approach, I have communicated regularly with the heads of the companies who have a similar attitude towards safety and ethics on our international expeditions. It is a difficult time to say what is right.

We are 100% confident that we will not be doing an Everest expedition in Nepal this spring.

To your knowledge, are there unique COVID threats that mountain residents should be aware of?

Yes, please. Our respiratory systems are in constant extreme struggle during an Everest ascent. This applies to both altitude (especially the risk of HAPE) and viral and bacterial infections of the upper respiratory tract. Adding COVID symptoms to these “normal” risks is dangerous. This is coupled with the challenge of actually diagnosing COVID symptoms versus HAPE. The first reports are those [alleged] The Everest COVID case was originally diagnosed as HAPE.

Can you confirm the reports of COVID on Everest?

Since I’m not there, I can’t. However, this isn’t the first base camp evacuation for COVID this season I’ve heard about from guides on the mountain. Others have been kept quiet so far. So I have no reason to doubt this report.

Of course, we should be careful about spreading rumors until these cases can and will be confirmed. I hope that operators and suppliers (as well as individual climbers) will exchange information openly so that the severity of the situation can be assessed and managed. Hiding cases could lead to a lot more.

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