Delta COVID-19 variant ravaging Everest Base Camp, but Nepal government denies spread

Newshub can reveal COVID-19 is tearing through one of the most remote places on the planet: Everest Base Camp. 

The Nepalese government denies it's happening, but a Nepalese Sherpa who has recently come off the world's highest mountain has called the outbreak scary.

Nepal shares a border with India which has remained open through the pandemic, and the new Delta variant is now widespread throughout Nepal and the Everest area. 

Mingma Gyalje Sherpa led a team of Nepalese mountaineers on a world-record-setting first winter ascent of K2 - the second-highest mountain next to Mt Everest - in January.

From the top of the mountain at -60C, his next challenge was already in his sights - his sixth summit of Mt Everest.

But when he made it to Everest Base Camp he was faced with a new and even more challenging threat. 

"When the news came about COVID-19 cases at Base Camp we were very scared and all of the clients were very scared," he said. 

Mingma says COVID-19 raced through the transient population of the temporary village. 

"Not less than 80 and not more than 150 - but that's quite a lot. "

Nepal has officially recorded nearly 600,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 8000 deaths, with streets deserted and bodies piling up in crematoriums. 

But according to Nepal's government, there has been no outbreak on Everest.

Kiwi mountain guide Guy Cotter, who would be on Everest now if not for the pandemic, says what he's hearing from Nepal backs up Mingma's account. 

"Absolutely, I believe that the numbers are at least 150, if not more... evidence from people who have been on the mountain is that there has been a lot of it and many many people have been evacuated withCOVID-19," he told Newshub

"Many of the sherpa teams have been very badly affected to the point that some expeditions have had to stop operating because their sherpa crew have had COVID."

Mingma's company Imagine Nepal was able to push on, with 15 people making it to Everest's summit in May.

He defends his decision to go ahead with an expedition because his many employees were truly desperate for work. 

"More people were dying because of hunger, not because of COVID."   

Himalayan Trust Chair Peter Hillary says his fears of COVID-19 spreading in the remote region have been realised. 

Isolation facilities have been set up - including one at a school Sir Edmund Hillary built - but he says the chain of transmission can't be stopped until all the climbers leave. 

"They really need to evacuate the mountain, and get everyone off the mountains, the foreign climbers, the Nepalese climbers and all these porters, so that they can really effectively lock down their communities."

There are no reports of deaths from COVID-19 on Everest, but the true toll of the 2021 climbing season, and all those it infected, won't be known for some time.