Climbing guide reports large COVID-19 outbreak on Mount Everest

An expert climbing guide from Austria says he estimates a COVID-19 outbreak on Mount Everest has infected at least 100 climbers and support staff.

Austrian mountain guide says he knows of 7 positive test results, fears dozens at base camp also infected

Nepali Sherpa guide Kami Rita poses for a picture on May 2 at the Everest base camp. (Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images)

An expert climbing guide said Saturday he believes that a coronavirus outbreak on Mount Everest has infected at least 100 climbers and support staff.

Nepalese officials have previously denied there is a COVID-19 cluster on the world's highest peak.

Lukas Furtenbach of Austria says his estimate is based on confirmations from rescue pilots, insurance providers, doctors and expedition leaders, among others. He spoke with The Associated Press in Kathmandu on Saturday, a week after halting his Everest expedition due to virus fears.

Furtenbach said one of his foreign guides and six Nepali Sherpa guides have tested positive.

"We have at least 100 people minimum positive for COVID in base camp, and then the numbers might be something like 150 or 200," he said.

He said it was obvious there were many cases at the Everest base camp because he could visibly see people were sick, and could hear people coughing in their tents.

Mountain guide Lukas Furtenbach estimates there are at least 100 people who have COVID-19 at Mount Everest base camp, although Nepalese mountaineering officials have denied there are any active cases. (Bikram Rai/The Associated Press)

A total of 408 foreign climbers were issued permits to climb Everest this season, aided by several hundred Sherpa guides and support staff who've 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 for the country's Himalayan mountains. Mountaineering was closed last year due to the pandemic.

Nepalese officials could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday. Other climbing teams have not announced any COVID-19 infections among their members or staff. Multiple climbers have reported testing positive after they were brought down from the Everest base camp.

Furtenbach said most teams on the mountain were not carrying virus testing kits, and that before his team pulled out, they had helped conduct tests and had confirmed two cases.

Most still waiting at camp before summit attempt

Most teams are still at base camp, hoping for clear weather next week so they can make a final push to the summit before the climbing season closes at the end of the month, Furtenbach said.

In late April, a Norwegian climber became the first to test positive at the Everest base camp. He was flown by helicopter to Kathmandu, where he was treated and later returned home.

Nepal is experiencing a virus surge, with record numbers of new infections and deaths. China last week canceled climbing from its side of Mount Everest due to fears the virus could be spread from the Nepalese side.

Nepal reported 8,607 new infections and 177 deaths on Friday, bringing the nation's totals since the pandemic began to more than 497,000 infections and 6,024 deaths.