COVID Outbreak Hits Base Camp of Mount Everest as Elite Tourist Destination Reopens After 1 Year

China will create "a line of separation" at the summit of Mount Everest to prevent Nepal's climbers from spreading COVID-19

Mount Everest. Photo: Michael C. Klesius/National Geographic/Getty

Mount Everest is the latest destination to be hit by a COVID-19 outbreak — and now officials are trying to curb the spread.

Following a year-long closure due to the pandemic, the popular tourist destination officially reopened to visitors in April, according to CNN.

However, just weeks into its reopening, the Mount Everest base on Nepal's side was hit hard by an outbreak of coronavirus cases in late April, the outlet recently reported.

Since then, numbers have continued to rise as Nepal — which borders COVID-hit India — grapples with a lack of oxygen, hospital capacity and beds, per the Associated Press.

In response to the outbreak, China announced on Monday that it will create "a line of separation" at the summit to prevent the mingling of climbers from each side, CNN, the AP and Reuters reported, citing Xinhua News Agency. (China's state-run media agency reportedly cited Tibet's sports bureau.)

Mount Everest
Mount Everest. Paula Bronstein/Getty

Per Reuters, the separation line will be set up by a small team of Tibetan climbing guides.

Once the line has been set up, a group of 21 Chinese nationals will climb the Tibetan side, the outlet reported.

At this time, it is unclear how the line will be enforced and what, if any, material it will be made of.

Xinhua News Agency confirmed to the AP that those who begin their climb on the north side in China won't be allowed to cross the peak line or make contact with anyone or anything coming from the south side in Nepal.

The peak of Mount Everest has been referred to as the "death zone," as many climbers have died there due to a lack of oxygen. The area itself is 8,848 meters (29,028.87 feet) but only contains enough snow for approximately six climbers and guides at one time, according to Reuters.

Despite that, hundreds of climbers have set out each year to make the iconic trek during the spring climbing season, which typically takes place from April through early June.

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In 2019, Mount Everest saw one of its deadliest spring climbing seasons after a "traffic jam" on the mountain, caused by a record-setting 381 climbers, resulted in at least 11 deaths, the New York Times reported.

But last year, after the global pandemic led to Mount Everest's closure in March, the mountain saw the first climbing season in decades that didn't involve a "traffic jam," according to The Washington Post.

This year, China has not permitted any foreign visitors to climb the Tibetan side due to COVID-19 concerns, CNN reported. They have, however, issued permits to 38 people — 21 of whom are Chinese climbers approved to climb the mountain from the northern slope, according to the AP, which cited Xinhua.

Tourists in Tibet have also been banned from visiting the mountain's base camp on the Tibetan side, according to CNN.

Meanwhile, Nepal's government has yet to cancel the spring climbing season, possibly due to its need for economic revival and tourism revenue amid the pandemic, the outlet reported.

In this photo taken on May 16, 2018, mountaineers ascend on their way to the summit of Mount Everest, as they climb on the south face from Nepal.
In this photo taken on May 16, 2018, mountaineers ascend on their way to the summit of Mount Everest, as they climb on the south face from Nepal. GESMAN TAMANG/AFP/Getty Images

The country saw its biggest one-day increase in COVID cases on Friday with 9,023 reported cases, per CNN. As of Monday, there have been at least 394,667 total cases and 3,720 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Nepal, according to the New York Times.

In China, at least 102,889 cases and 4,636 deaths have been reported, per the Times.

Despite the precautionary measures being taken at the peak, Ang Tshering Sherpa, a decades-long mountaineering expert, told AP that it's not likely for COVID to spread up there, especially because climbers wear protective clothing that covers their face from the cold air.

"The idea that anyone with coronavirus could even reach the summit is impossible because climbers with any respiratory difficulties will just not be able to reach the altitude," he told the outlet.

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