'COVID is rampant yet no one seems to care’: Desperate Mount Everest climbers accused of ignoring 'outbreak of virus'

·3-min read
The view of camps arraying in the Everest Base Camp, rudimentary campsites at the base of Mount Everest that are used by mountain climbers during their ascent and descent, in Tingri county, Shigatse city, southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, 2 May 2020.
Base camp at Mount Everest, where climbers have been accused of ignoring an outbreak of coronavirus. (PA)

Climbers desperate to summit Mount Everest have been accused of ignoring an outbreak of coronavirus.

Filmmaker and mountaineer Elia Saikaly slammed foreign climbers for choosing to climb the world's tallest peak despite reports of the virus breaking out at base camp. 

Saikaly, who has summited Everest four times, wrote in an Instagram post: “I came here to work and earn a living despite promising I’d never return. I just saw too much in 2019. Greed and hubris is everywhere.

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“The usual suspects already have two deaths on their watch and COVID-19 is rampant, yet no one seems to care. Summit at all costs!”

Explaining how he returned to Everest this year to make a film about the “heroes of the Himalayas", Saikaly said: “As I watched my Sherpa friends, some who carried up to 9 bottles of oxygen from camp 2 to camp 4, I was disgusted with myself as I knew that valuable oxygen was needed to save lives in the lowlands and in Kathmandu.

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“But then I thought: these boys need the money and Everest summit seekers are happy to toss it away for the amusement park ride that is Mt. Everest. And yet I filmed it....”

Saikaly also described scenes of rubbish left by climbers and apologised for climbing the peak himself.

The filmmaker said: “I apologize on behalf of ‘mountaineers’ for the pile of trash that is cropped out beneath my feet. The most sacred place on Earth is a now a dump."

Saikaly also described how the climbers are having to climb a dead body on Hillary Step and described the dangerous human traffic jams on the mountain.

It comes amid reports of a COVID outbreak on the mountain as foreign climbers continue their attempts to summit the mountain.

Watch: Norwegian climber who was first to test positive for COVID at Everest went during pandemic because it was cheaper

Lukas Furtenbach of the Austrian Furtenbach Adventures company evacuated his team from the mountain this month, saying there was a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases at the base camp.

"So far we have about 100 confirmed cases in Everest base camp, confirmed by doctors, by hospitals, by insurance companies, by expedition leaders, by helicopter pilots who are flying out the patients and of course by the climbers themselves," Furtenbach told Reuters TV in Kathmandu on Monday.

However, Mira Acharya, a director at the Department of Tourism, which oversees climbing activities in Nepal's mountains, said the government had not received any notice of a COVID-19 outbreak at the Everest base camp and that expeditions were continuing through the climbing season that ends next week.

When asked about the "100 cases" mentioned by Furtenbach, she said: "We have not received any report about that."

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She said some climbers whose teams had stopped climbing were continuing their expeditions, but gave no names.

"There is no panic among the climbers there," said Acharya, who visited base camp this month. 

"If there were a few cases they were managed in time and well."

On Sunday, about 180 foreign climbers and their Sherpa guides reached the peak and more are expected to go up this week, she said.

In April, a Norwegian climber was evacuated from the base camp of the mountain and flown to Kathmandu, where he tested positive for COVID-19. He has since returned home.

Nepal, which receives millions of dollars in income from climbers every year, issued 408 climbing permits for Everest for the April-May climbing season this year, after closing the peak last year due to the pandemic.

On Sunday, Nepal reported 513,241 infections and 6,346 deaths since the outbreak began, according to government data.

Watch: Turning Mount Everest trash into treasure

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