Sherpa guides said a Swiss and an American have died climbing Mount Everest, becoming the first fatalities since Nepal reopened the summit of the world’s tallest mountain to foreigners last month.
Nepal, whose doctors warn of COVID-19 overload in urban clinics, this season plans to issue 408 seasonal ascent permits for the 8,849-meter (29,032-foot) peak.
Last year, Nepal, a nation of 29 million, had kept the peak and its slopes closed due to the pandemic, despite potential earnings.
American Puwei Liu, 55, “suddenly passed away,” at Camp 4, after suffering snow blindness and exhaustion during his ascent, said Sherpa guides of Seven Summit Treks.
Swiss climber, Abdul Waraich, 41, had scaled the summit but died later of exhaustion, said the firm as bad weather closed in.
“We sent two additional Sherpas with oxygen and foods, unfortunately, Sherpas couldn’t save him,” Chhang Dawa Sherpa posted, referring to thin, high-altitude air.
In recent weeks, Nepalese authorities have been tight-lipped over reports of evacuations of coronavirus-infected climbers from base camps, where negative tests are required, as the nation fights an infection surge, its second since last year.
Notified by its Health Ministry on Wednesday were 168 COVID-19 deaths over the past 24 hours, raising the nation’s toll in the current surge to beyond 4,000.
The Nepal Medical Association the “health system is on the verge of collapse” and cited 1,374 people in intensive care units, some on ventilators.
Responding to claims of medical oxygen shortages, the Nepal Mountaineering Association has urged climbers to bring down leftover oxygen bottles, often left littering slopes.
Oxygen shortages had cost 14 lives among COVID-19 patients at two clinics in Rupandehi district in southern Nepal bordering India, reported the Kathmandu Post on Thursday.
On Tuesday, 38 climbers ascended Everest, known to Nepalese as Sagarmatha, among them two British mountaineers and 10 Bahrainis, including a prince.
During 2019, 11 people died on Everest’s slopes, with four deaths blamed on overcrowded routes — on Nepal’s southern side and the northern Tibetan approach run by China.
This year, China has only allowed access to Chinese climbers, with state media proclaiming a “separation line” at the peak border to avoid virus-hit Nepal.
More climbers are expected to attempt Everest’s summit once weather conditions improve. May tends to offer climbers the best weather to summit the peak.