KATHMANDU, May 6 (Xinhua) -- Nepali tourism officials rejected on Thursday claims about foreign climbers being infected with coronavirus in their attempts to scale Mt. Qomolangma, the tallest in the world, and other peaks in the season.
"We have been notified that some climbers were airlifted to Kathmandu for respiratory problems and pneumonia. We are not officially notified any one of them tested positive for COVID-19," Bhishma Raj Bhattarai, a section officer at the Department of Tourism, told Xinhua.
Mira Acharya, director of the department, has been at the base of Mt. Qomolangma for the last few days. "Nobody has complained to me that anybody has developed COVID-19 symptoms here," Acharya told Xinhua from the base camp over the phone.
CIWEC Hospital, a Kathmandu-based facility dedicated to the treatment of the mountaineers, had a few mountaineers airlifted from the base camp of Mt. Qomolangma two weeks ago after they developed the symptoms of COVID-19.
"They were confirmed to be infected with coronavirus in the polymerase chain reaction test," Astha Pant, head of business development at the Kathmandu hospital, told Xinhua. "All have been discharged from the hospital now. They were all foreigners."
Pant, however, refused to give the exact number of the climbers who tested positive for coronavirus at her hospital.
The report about COVID-19 reaching the world's tallest mountain came at a time when around 2,000 mountaineers, their guides and helpers, along with some Nepali government officials, have gathered at the base camp before the climbers make their first bid on May 9 on the peak, the world's highest at 8848.86 meters along the China-Nepal border.
The Nepali government issued climbing permits for 408 climbers this year, a record high for Mt. Qomolangma, according to the Department of Tourism. In 2019, a total of 381 permits were issued, a new high at the time.
Many mountaineers have arrived in Nepal to scale Mt. Qomolangma and other Himalayan mountains this spring, as they could not visit Nepal last year due to the suspension of all expeditions by the Nepali government over COVID-19 risks. A new record high of 9,070 infections were reported in Nepal on Thursday plus 54 deaths.
"Four Nepali Sherpa guides, who were evacuated from Dhaulagiri base camp to Kathmandu on Tuesday after developing symptoms of COVID-19, tested positive for coronavirus," Mingma Sherpa, the chairperson of Seven Summit Treks, one of the leading expedition organizing companies in Nepal, told Xinhua on Thursday. "They are people associated with different expedition teams."
The Nepali government allowed 33 mountaineers to attempt Mt. Dhaulagiri (8,167m), the world's seventh tallest peak.
Tima Deryan, the first Lebanese woman and the youngest Arab ever to conquer Mt. Qomolgama in May 2019 when she was 26 years old, fell sick while she was trying to climb the 6,476-meter-high Mera Peak days ago.
She was airlifted to Kathmandu where she tested positive for COVID-19, according to Khaleejtimes.com, an online edition of United Arab Emirates-based newspaper Khaleej Times.
Earlier, Norwegian climber Erlend Ness became the first to test positive for COVID-19 at Mt. Qomolangma base camp and was flown by helicopter to Kathmandu, where he was hospitalized. He told the press last month that he tested positive on April 15.
Mountaineering is an important source of income for the Nepali government, and it collected a total of 4.65 million U.S. dollars in royalty fees for issuing permits to foreign mountaineers in the spring.