Without a doubt, the biggest health scare in the entire world right now is the coronavirus in China. As of today, more than 63,000 people have been infected with the disease, with over 1400 deaths so far. It has gotten so bad that the World Health Organization has declared the virus, which has officially been named Covid-19, the “greatest threat to humanity” at the moments which is a pretty scary prospect when you stop to think about it. Amidst all of the health turmoil that the coronavirus is causing, it is having lasting impacts on a wide variety of industries, including smartphone production, apparel and footwear manufacturing, and more. It could also have a dramatic impact on the upcoming climbing season on Everest, with the very real threat of China closing its borders to help prevent the disease from spreading.
Yesterday, mountaineering blogger Alan Arnette took a look at the impact the disease could have on the looming Everest season. As of today, we’re about six weeks away from things really starting to ramp up as climbers pour into Nepal for the start of their expeditions. Some of those climbers will of course plan to cross over the border into Tibet, which is a Chinese controlled territory. There isn’t a single province inside China that hasn’t seen a Covid-19 outbreak, although so far Tibet has only had one case of the disease. Still, China has been known to shut down the borders and deny permits for its three 8000-meter peaks—Everest, Cho Oyu, and Shishapangma—before, and it could potentially do so again this year.
As Arnette points out, at this point it is too early to panic and most climbing teams are proceeding as normal. Still, the International Federation of Sport Climbing recently cancelled several competitions in China due to the outbreak. The most prominent of those competitions was a qualifying event for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, which was to be held in the city of Chongqing, which sits in a neighboring state to Huei, where the virus first started to spread. Tibet is a long way from that zone and so far, has remained relatively isolated from the epidemic.
Also worth nothing, Nepal has only just had its first outbreak of the coronavirus as well, so as of this writing it isn’t widespread there yet either. A lot can change between now and the start of the season of course, but for the time being there doesn’t seem to be any reason to change plans or shift schedules. Unfortunately, the impact of the virus may already be impacting Nepal however, as it has seen a 10% drop in tourism in January year-over-year, despite the fact that the government there has launched a massive campaign to lure visitors in 2020.
Pondering the impact of the virus on Everest expeditions seems rather trivial when you consider the tens of thousands of people who are facing health risks in China and around the world. Still, if you have plans to visit the country in the near future, it pays to monitor the situation closely and understand the risks. Right now, those risks seem fairly minimal or even nonexistent. But considering the proximity of Nepal and Tibet to China itself, things could change dramatically before the start of the spring climbing and trekking season.