Foreigners return to Mount Everest as Nepal battles second COVID-19 wave

FILE PHOTO: Mount Everest, the world highest peak, and other peaks of the Himalayan range are seen through an aircraft window during a mountain flight from Kathmandu, Nepal January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Monika Deupala/File Photo

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Foreigners climbed Mount Everest for the first time since Nepal's government reopened the mountain after it was shut last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite recent coronavirus cases at its base camp.

Thirty-eight climbers including ten Bahraini and two British mountaineers climbed the world's highest mountain on Tuesday, according to hiking companies.

It comes as a few climbers were evacuated from the Everest base camp in April after they fell sick with COVID-19 symptoms as Nepal battles a devastating second wave of coronaviurs infections.

"Twelve foreign climbers scaled Sagarmatha today," Tourism Department official Mira Acharya told Reuters from the base camp, referring to the Nepali name of the peak.

Nepal closed the mountain in March 2020 due to the pandemic, but reopened for this year's climbing season starting in April, issuing a record of 408 permits granting access to the 8,848.86-metre (29,031.69-foot) peak.

Mingma Sherpa at the Seven Summit Treks company said Bahraini prince Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa was among the climbers on Tuesday.

Nepal is fighting a recent surge in infections and has reported a total 403,794 coronavirus cases and 3,859 deaths.

China will set up "a line of separation" at the summit of Mount Everest to prevent the mingling of climbers from COVID-hit Nepal and those ascending from the Tibetan side as a precautionary measure, Chinese state media reported on Sunday.

"The COVID-19 virus appears to be spreading quickly throughout EBC (Everest base camp) and the Khumbu, with frequent evacuations to Kathmandu, where individuals are testing positive for the virus," American climbing blogger Alan Arnette wrote in a post last month.

Nepal, which earns millions of dollars from climbers every year, says it has not been notified of the outbreak at the base camp.

Officials say climbers are required to show a negative test for the coronavirus before heading to the mountain.

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

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