Amid COVID Outbreaks on Mount Everest, China Keeping Nepal Climbers Away

A Norwegian climber tested positive for COVID-19 on Mount Everest in late April, and now China says it will be drawing a "separation line" to try to curb the spread of the virus from climbers going up the Nepal side of the world's highest mountain, Chinese Xinhua News Agency said Monday.

The "separation line" will prevent those climbing China's side of the mountain to cross it, stopping them from coming in contact with anyone or anything from Nepal's side.

"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," mountaineering expert Ang Tshering Sherpa told the Associated Press.

As COVID-19 cases and deaths in Nepal reach record highs, officials have not yet responded to China's decision and have declined to discuss virus outbreaks on Mount Everest.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Everest Base Camp
China will be drawing a "separation line" on Mount Everest to try to curb the spread of COVID-19, Chinese state media reported on Monday. Above, Nepal mountaineer Kami Rita Sherpa poses for a picture during an interview with AFP at the Everest base camp in the Mount Everest region of Solukhumbu district on May 2, 2021. Prakash Mathema/AFP via Getty Images

A team of Tibetan mountaineering guides will set up the separation line at the peak before climbers attempt to reach the summit from the Chinese side. It was not clear what the separation line would be made of.

Both countries suspended the climbing season on the world's highest mountain last year due to the pandemic. Nepal has issued permits allowing 408 foreigners to attempt climbs this year as it tries to boost tourism revenue.

China has issued permits to 38 people to climb on Mount Everest this year. Xinhua said 21 Chinese climbers were approved to attempt to reach the summit from the northern slope. A separate group of 17 climbers has also received permits to hike on the northern slope.

While China has mostly curbed domestic transmission of the virus, Nepal is experiencing a surging outbreak. Most major cities and towns are under lockdown and all domestic and international flights are grounded.

Tshering Sherpa has been in the mountaineering community for decades and said it was not possible to draw any kind of separation on the Everest summit.

The only point where climbers from both sides would even come close is the summit, which is a small space where climbers spend only a few minutes to take photographs and experience the 360-degree views.

Climbers would be wearing thick layers of clothing and gear and their faces would be covered with oxygen masks, glasses and protection from the freezing air.

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View of Mt. Everest
In this November 12, 2015, file photo, Mount Everest is seen from Kalapatthar in Nepal. China will draw a “separation line” atop Mount Everest to try to prevent coronavirus from being spread by climbers from Nepal's side of the mountain, Chinese state media reported Monday. Tashi Sherpa/AP Photo