Climbers Return to Mount Everest With Covid-19 Precautions

After Nepal was forced to close its mountain trails last year, dealing its economy a devastating blow, the tiny Himalayan country has reopened Mount Everest and its seven other 26,200-foot-plus peaks in the hope of a rebound.

For this year’s climbing season, from March to May, Nepal has granted more than 300 climbers the licenses needed to ascend the world’s tallest peak. Many of those climbers hope to reach the summit, 5.5 miles above sea level.

But as the coronavirus resurges in South Asia, the pandemic has made the already deadly climb even more hazardous. Local officials have instituted testing, mask and social-distancing requirements, stationed medical personnel at the Mount Everest Base Camp, and made plans to swoop in and pick up infected climbers. Climbers are typically greeted in Kathmandu with raucous parties thrown by expedition staffers. But not this year.

“No party. No handshake. No hug. Just ‘Namaste,’” said Lakpa Sherpa, whose agency is taking 19 climbers to Everest this spring, referring to the South Asian greeting.

coronavirus vaccination efforts are faltering, is taking a calculated risk. In 2019, tourism brought in $2 billion in revenue and employed about a million people. For tens of thousands of Nepalis, the three-month climbing season is the only opportunity for paid work.

The damage from last year’s closure was immense. At least 1.5 million people in the country of 30 million lost jobs or substantial income during the pandemic, according to Nepal’s National Planning Commission.

Porters who usually cart supplies and gear up the peaks for well-paying foreign climbers were forced to subsist on government handouts of rice and lentils. Expert expedition guides, many of whom are members of Nepal’s Sherpa tribe, returned to their villages in the remote mountains and grew potatoes to survive.

“We have no other options,” said Rudra Singh Tamang, the head of Nepal’s tourism department. “We need to save the mountaineering economy.”

Still, tourism ministry officials and expedition agencies acknowledge that Nepal has no clear plan to test or isolate climbers if one tests positive for the virus.

At the airport in Kathmandu, the capital, incoming travelers must show negative RT-PCR test results or provide vaccination certificates. Climbers initially had to get additional insurance, adding to the average $50,000 price tag to climb Everest, although the government has loosened that requirement.

Despite the challenges, the climbing season has drawn some high-profile mountaineers, including a Bahraini prince with a large entourage, a Qatari who wants to be the first woman from her nation to make the climb, and a former National Football League wide receiver who is aiming to become the oldest N.F.L. player to summit the world’s seven tallest peaks.

“I wanted to be there,” said the former player, Mark Pattison, 59, “in Nepal, this spring, at any cost.”

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Climbers Return to Mt. Everest Despite Covid-19

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Mark Pattison played wide receiver for three National Football League teams in the 1980s. Now he wants to fulfill another dream: to climb all seven of the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest.

To prepare, Mr. Pattison, 59, packed weatherproof outerwear, polarized goggles and ice crampons. But he is climbing Mount Everest in the midst of a global pandemic. He has supplemented his usual gear with face masks, gloves and sanitizer. He took out extra insurance to pay for a rescue if Covid-19 strikes.

The coronavirus is resurging in South Asia, but Mr. Pattison is undaunted. “I wanted to be there,” he said, “in Nepal, this spring, at any cost.”

Nepal has reopened Mount Everest and its seven other 26,200-foot-plus peaks in the hope of a mountain-climbing rebound. The tiny Himalayan country was forced to close trails last year, dealing its economy a devastating blow. For this year’s climbing season, from March to May, Nepal has granted more than 300 climbers the licenses needed to ascend Mount Everest. Many of those climbers hope to reach the summit, 5.5 miles above sea level.

11 deaths in 2019 — even more hazardous. Local officials have instituted testing, mask and social-distancing requirements, stationed medical personnel at the Mount Everest Base Camp and made plans to swoop in and pick up infected climbers. Climbers are typically greeted in Kathmandu with raucous parties thrown by expedition staffers. But not this year.

to suspend its vaccination program before a donation of 800,000 doses from China, its other giant neighbor, allowed it to resume. Still, it won’t be able to administer a second regimen to the 1.7 million who already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Despite potential problems, the climbing season kicked off at the end of March, after the first expedition left Kathmandu. From there, climbers travel by plane to Lukla, the town that serves as the starting point for the 10-day trek to base camp. Once at camp, they spend weeks there acclimating to the altitude and waiting for a window of clear weather to attempt the summit.

Sandro Gromen-Hayes, a filmmaker who documented a British Army expedition of Everest in 2017, said Thamel, the area of Kathmandu popular with broke backpackers, was quieter this year.

“It was swarmed with trekkers and climbers and stoners and everything in between,” he said of his previous visit. “Now Thamel is much quieter.”

Mr. Gromen-Hayes, 31, came to Nepal from Pakistan, where he filmed an expedition on K2, the world’s second highest peak, which is known because of its ferocious winds as “the savage mountain.” Usually bereft of climbers in winter, it saw dozens of top mountaineers who had been cooped up for months in virus lockdowns and then flocked to K2 in December to make an attempt.

Among the climbing community, “I don’t think a lot of people are concerned about the corona angle,” he said.

Some climbers, like Mr. Pattison, the former N.F.L. player, said they were drawn to Mount Everest this year because they assumed it would be less crowded. But Nepal expects more climbers to apply for licenses beyond the more than 300 who have already, said Mira Acharya, the director of Nepal’s tourism department.

Mr. Pattison plans to trek in surgical gloves and gown, trading in his face mask for an oxygen mask only when he begins the arduous climb from base camp to the peak.

The record books are motivating Mr. Pattison. He has already climbed the six other peaks on the other continents. Should he climb Mt. Everest, he will be the oldest N.F.L. player to have surmounted the Seven Summits, as the peaks are known, and the first to climb Everest and then clamber up neighboring Lhotse, at 27,940 feet the world’s fourth-highest peak, within 24 hours.

“I’ve been at this for nine years,” Mr. Pattison said. Despite the pandemic, he added, “I’m ready to go.”

Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, Nepal, and Emily Schmall from New Delhi.

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Maoist Insurgents Kill 23 Indian Forces in Ambush, Officials Say

NEW DELHI — At least 23 Indian security forces were killed in an ambush by Maoist militants in the central state of Chattisgarh, officials said on Sunday, reviving concerns around a decades-old insurgency that appeared to have been largely contained in recent years.

A large force of Indian security personnel had been carrying out a clearance operation in a densely forested area on the edges of the Bijapur district when they were ambushed by the insurgents on Saturday in a firefight that lasted four hours.

Avinash Mishra, the deputy superintendent of police in Bijapur, said an additional 31 security personnel were wounded in the attack.

He said that the militants, often referred to as Naxalites, also suffered heavy casualties, adding that one insurgent’s body remained at the site while the rest were cleared by tractors. Mr. Mishra said the insurgents had managed to seize the dead soldiers’ weapons.

reach was once so widespread, and their attacks so frequent, that in 2006, India’s prime minister declared them the country’s “single biggest internal-security challenge.”

However, the Indian government has shrunk the space where the insurgents operate over the past decade by combining military operations involving tens of thousands of paramilitary forces with economic packages to the areas the insurgents used as a base for activity and recruitment. Where the insurgents once operated in about 200 districts at their peak, they are were confined to less than 50 districts last year, according to official figures.

The government has hunted insurgent leaders, killing a large number or forcing them to surrender, and insurgent attacks have declined in frequency and potency.

Nevertheless, the group continues to launch hit-and-run attacks, ambushing security forces in friendly terrain and inflicting casualties in deadly battles. Before the attack on Saturday, 56 people, including security forces, insurgents and civilians, had been killed in Maoist violence this year, according to data by the South Asia Terrorism portal.

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Bangladesh and Parts of India Look to Lockdowns Amid Surges

NEW DELHI — As a new wave of coronavirus infections grips the densely populated region of South Asia, home to a quarter of the world’s population, Bangladesh on Saturday announced a second lockdown and officials in Mumbai, India’s largest city, said they were on the verge of declaring one.

The authorities in Bangladesh said the nation of 165 million people would go into a weeklong lockdown beginning on Monday to curb the spread of the virus. The country shut down for two months starting in March last year.

Bangladesh on Friday registered nearly 7,000 cases in 24 hours, the highest since the spread of the virus in the country last year. The daily death toll has been around 50 for the past week, but what has particularly alarmed officials is the high test positivity rate, with 24 percent of virus tests conducted coming back positive.

Farhad Hossain, Bangladesh’s state minister for public administration, told the local news media that “industries and factories will remain open,” but would operate in shifts and follow strict health protocols. The exceptions appeared to be aimed at reducing the economic impact and avoiding the kind of exodus of laborers that led to a humanitarian crisis in India last year.

sharply in Pakistan, which has struggled to source vaccines for its population, and in India, where a vaccination drive is only now picking up pace — despite the country being home to one of the world’s largest suppliers of vaccines.

Just a few weeks ago, India was a major exporter of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it was using that to exert influence in South Asia and around the world. But as infections soared, the country decided to cut back on exports and is now holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million doses that the Serum Institute of India, the private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine, makes each day.

India on Saturday recorded its biggest single-day spike in cases since September, with government officials reporting nearly 90,000 cases and 714 deaths over the past 24 hours. Single-day figures sometimes contain anomalies, but the country’s seven-day average of new cases, a more reliable gauge, has been rising sharply since early March.

Nearly half of deaths and new infections in recent weeks have been traced to the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, the country’s financial hub.

large rallies in several states where local elections are underway.

The government has also allowed a huge monthlong Hindu festival to go ahead on the banks of Ganges River. One million to five million people are expected to participate in the festivities in the city of Haridwar each day, officials say.

In other virus news from around the world:

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