China's move to protect its citizens from COVID exposure at the Everest summit comes at a time when cases are on the rise in the Mainland. Nepal, already stricken by a steep rise in infections and a shaky government, has to act fast as finances are fast dwindling.
China is planning to establish a ‘line of separation’ at the Mount Everest peak to prevent climbers from coming in contact with those climbing from the Nepal side as a move to contain the spread of COVID-19 infections, according to the Chinese state media.
The China-Nepal border runs across the summit, with the North Slope belonging to China and the South Slope to Nepal. The Mount Everest peak, standing tall at 8,848 metres, is a mound of snow that can barely accommodate a few climbers.
Nepal has seen a huge rise in COVID -19 cases in the past few days, with 9,127 new cases being reported on May 10, taking the total tally to over four lakhs.
To safeguard its citizens, China will deploy a team of Tibetan climbers to set up the line of separation and stop any interaction with climbers from the Nepal side.
Nepal will have to quickly rethink its tourism policy in the wake of China’s 'zero contact' strategy. The cash-strapped Himalayan nation has been reeling under pandemic-related tourism woes since April and will have to find a way out of this crisis. The recent development of current Prime Minister Oli losing a vote of confidence amidst the raging pandemic has made life even tougher for Nepal.
A group of 21 Chinese nationals is currently en route to the peak after being quarantined for nearly a month in the Tibetan base. There is no clarity on whether the Tibetan climbers will maintain the Line of Separation and stop anyone from breaching it.
With cases on the rise in Mainland China, the government is keen to go all out on safety measures. China has not allowed foreign climbers to ascend Mount Everest or Mount Qomolangma, as it is known in the Tibetan region of China, since the outbreak.
Meanwhile, as news of the line of separation hit the headlines, some climbers in Nepal were evacuated to be treated for the virus in Kathmandu. According to unofficial reports 30 members have been infected. However, official figures kept the tally at 17.
It may be recalled that Nepal is heavily dependent on tourism, besides yearly grants and subsidies from India and China. With COVID-19 hammering the tourism sector, Nepal issued a record number of permits to climb Everest this year. Each permit from the Nepal side costs $11,000, with other costs adding up to nearly $40,000 for every climber. It remains to be seen how the government, already in crisis mode, will tackle this newest challenge.