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Updated: China and Nepal Close Mount Everest Due to Coronavirus Threat

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A line of climbers approaching the south summit of Mount Everest.Mário Simoes/Flickr; CC BY 2.0

The Everest season has ended before it started this year, for climbers planning to ascent the mountain’s Tibetan north side. Himalayan blogger Alan Arnett broke the news on his website.

“Operators running Everest expeditions on the China/Tibet side of Everest were notified today, March 11, 2020, by the China Tibet Mountaineering Association that all permits for the spring season are canceled due to the coronavirus.” Arnett wrote.

A press release from Alpenglow Expeditions, a guiding company led by high-altitude mountaineer Adrian Ballinger, confirmed the news and explained the dangers.

“In high altitude conditions, where breathing is already a challenge, the novel  coronavirus, which attacks the respiratory system, could be life threatening.” Ballinger said. “The tight-knit basecamp communities where climbers assemble before summiting would also be susceptible to a rapid spread of the viral infection.”

Alpenglow had moved their expeditions to the Tibetan-side of the mountain in recent years to avoid dangers posed by the increasingly unstable Khumbu Icefall as well as increasing crowds on the southern route. Ballinger said he would not move his expeditions back to the south side, and is instead cancelling this season’s Everest expeditions.

“Nepal may follow China’s lead and shut down their season as well,” said Ballinger. “Even if they don’t, the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak and the underlying issues of ascending from the south side, including the lack of effective management, overcrowding, and an unpredictable icefall, make such an expedition unsafe in our eyes. It’s not a gamble we’re willing to take.”

Nepal has made no announcements regarding closures of Everest’s popular south side, though they have increased visa restrictions for travelers from the countries most effected by the coronavirus outbreak. Visitors from China, Japan, South Korea, Iran and Italy will now be required to obtain a visa before arrival and submit a recently issued health certificate stating that they are not infected by COVID-19, according to The Himalayan Times.

The Everest news follows a wave of postponements and cancellations in the competition climbing world. USA Climbing has postponed national events, the IFSC has postponed or cancelled numerous events, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could be cancelled.

Update 3/12/20: Mirroring China’s decision, Nepal has announced that the southern side of Mount Everest will close as well. The mountain is now closed to all climbers for the 2020 climbing season.

“This is disappointing news for both our expedition leaders and our clients who have trained for months for this year’s climb,” said Lukas Furtenbach, the Founder and CEO of the guided expedition company that bears his name. “At Furtenbach, we continue to emphasize safety and wellbeing above all us, so we understand the dire consequences a Covid-19 outbreak at base camp would have. Sadly, we have to agree that this is a responsible call to make right now.”