Coronavirus fears have prompted Chinese officials to close access to Mt. Everest from Tibet, according to climbers with knowledge of the matter.
“Today, China announced the closure of Mt Everest for the spring season,” wrote Adrian Ballinger, climber and founder of Alpenglow Expeditions, in a post on Instagram.
The famous mountain can be climbed from its northern side, which is in Chinese-administered Tibet, as well as its southern side in Nepal.
The March-May climbing season is when weather conditions are best for climbing the Himalayan mountain.
On Wednesday Alpenglow Expeditions canceled its spring climbing season from the Chinese side of the mountain.
"Even though this is heartbreaking, I think it was the responsible thing to do,” said Ballinger in a statement emailed to Fox News. “If you can imagine you are bringing 500 to 1000 people together at base camp, from 20 to 50 different countries – there’s a good chance someone will bring Coronavirus with them to base camp. Then if you can imagine an upper respiratory illness combined with high altitude which affects the respiratory system, this is an extremely dangerous combination.”
Ballinger noted that if a climber became sick and were unable to be immediately evacuated the upper respiratory illness could very quickly become pneumonia at altitude, spreading to other members of the team.
“A Covid-19 outbreak at base camp would be devastating,” he added.
Climber Lukas Furtenbach, the founder of Furtenbach Adventures, told Fox News that his expedition company had anticipated the Chinese closure of the north side of Everest.
"We have already prepared for this scenario and as a precaution, we made all necessary arrangements to shift the expedition to the south side to Nepal, in case China closes the mountain,” he explained, via email. “This is a difficult situation for all, but also offers the rare chance of climbing the south side without the crowds. Nepal restrictions are not affecting our team. We have our visas."
Fox News has reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C. with a request for comment on this story.
More than 80,000 people in China have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and Chinese authorities have implemented travel restrictions. Nearly 60,000 people have recovered from coronavirus in China.
Coronavirus fears have also prompted officials in Nepal to implement immigration restrictions on visitors from a number of countries, which could impact the Mt. Everest climbing season.
On Monday Nepal’s Department of Immigration announced that the temporary suspension of visa-on-arrival for visitors from China, Iran, Italy, Korea and Japan. The restrictions went into force on Tuesday. Restrictions for visitors from France, Germany and Spain will come into force on March 13, officials said.
However, officials said that visitors from those countries who want to visit Nepal can still obtain visas from Nepalese missions abroad before they travel.
“Those applicants and also the nationals transiting from these countries bound to arrive Nepal are required to submit a recently issued health certificate stating that they are not infected by COVID-19 along with their visa applications,” it said. “The aforementioned health certificate will be scrutinized both at the airport in Kathmandu and the land border entry-exit points of Nepal.”
In recent years, overcrowding on Mt. Everest has become a major concern as growing numbers of climbers attempt to scale the deadly mountain.
Last year the BBC reported that melting glaciers on Mount Everest are revealing the bodies of dead climbers, sparking concern from the organizers of expeditions to the famous peak.
Officials in Nepal concerned about trash on Mount Everest are implementing a ban on single-use plastics at the famous mountain, according to an AFP report.
Everest’s trash problem has been in the spotlight recently. In June 2019 officials confirmed that a cleanup campaign on the mountain had removed over 24,000 pounds of garbage. The 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit remains littered, they said.
Fox News’ Paulina Dedaj, Travis Fedschun, Andrew O’Reilly and the Associated Press contributed to this article.
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