Mt Everest, Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN) In Nepal, a situation is unfolding that looks chillingly familiar.

Covid-19 cases are skyrocketing, hospitals are overwhelmed, and the country’s Prime Minister is pleading for help from other nations.

Nepal is now reporting about 20 daily Covid-19 cases per 100,000 people — about the same number as India was reporting two weeks ago.

Nepali devotees observing the first day of the Biska or Bisket Jatra at Taumadi, Bhaktapur, Nepal on April 10, 2021.
maharjan 2021

Last weekend, 44% of Nepal’s Covid tests came back positive, according to government figures quoted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), as it warned of an impending crisis.

“What is happening in India right now is a horrifying preview of Nepal’s future if we cannot contain this latest Covid surge that is claiming more lives by the minute,” Nepal’s Red Cross chairperson, Dr. Netra Prasad Timsina, said in a statement.

The virus’ rapid spread has raised fears Nepal is teetering on the brink of a crisis just as devastating as India’s — if not worse.

Nepal has a fragile health system, with fewer doctors per capita than India, and a lower vaccination rate than its neighbor. The country’s high test positivity rate suggests it isn’t catching nearly enough cases.

Mass public events, including festivals, political gatherings and weddings, have allowed cases to spread, along with general public complacency and slow government action.

“The situations are worsening day by day and it may go out of control in future,” Dr Samir Adhikari, a spokesperson for Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population, said Monday.

Although Nepal has tightened borders and imposed lockdowns in its worst-hit regions — including the capital — some fear that won’t be enough to contain the virus as it spreads through the capital, and even as far as Everest Base CampShops closed during the first day of lockdown in Kathmandu, Nepal, April 29, 2021.

A porous border

Only a month ago this Himalayan nation of 31 million people was reporting about 100 cases a day. Now, it’s more than 8,600.

Some have blamed that on India’s raging second wave spilling over into Nepal, which shares long, open land border with its neighbor.

Nepalis don’t need to show their passport or ID card to enter their country, and many Nepali people have businesses in India, and vice versa, meaning cross-border traffic is high. In recent weeks, some Indians have fled their country’s second wave, hoping to access health care in Nepal or escape to a third country, Adhikari said.

“It’s very hard to stop all the mobility between the two countries,” he added.

In recent days, Nepal tightened those rules. Nepali citizens can now only cross from India at 13 out of 35 border points, according to Nepal’s Foreign Minister, Pradeep Kumar Gyawali.

But returnees need to be tested at the border, according to Shankar Bahadur Bista, assistant chief district officer of Banke district, which borders India.

Anyone who test negative can go home — but positive cases must enter a quarantine facility or hospital, he added.

However, Dr Sameer Mani Dixit, a Nepal-based public health research scientist, says those measures came too late — the virus was already spreading within the country.

Large-scale gatherings

Nepal’s crisis began building in early April, as the country’s Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli touted yet another unproven coronavirus remedy.

Oli said the illness could be treated by gargling with guava leaves, adding to his ridiculed comments last year that Nepalis had stronger immune systems due to their daily intake of spices.

As April progressed, Nepalis gathered for religious festivals at home and across the border in India, where Nepali devotees joined Hindus who bathed in the Ganges for Kumbh Mela, one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings.

They included Nepal’s former King Gyanendra Shah and Queen Komal Shah, who were admitted to hospital with Covid-19 on their return to Nepal, according to a statement from Norvic International Hospital in Kathmandu.

Around the same time, thousands of Nepalis gathered in the capital to celebrate the major religious festival Pahan Charhe. Others came together in Bhaktapur, a nearby city to celebrate Bisket Jatra, despite authorities ordering them not to, according to local media. One placard in support of the event read: “Our festival is dearer than our lives to us.”

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At Least One Person Climbing Mt. Everest Has Tested Positive

BBC- Norwegian climber Erlend Ness was isolated in hospital for eight nights due to the virus, he told the BBC.

Reports say a sherpa in his party had also tested positive for the virus.

The outbreak is a blow to Nepal, which relies heavily on income generated from Everest expeditions.

Mr Ness is unsure where he could have caught the virus, but raised the possibility of catching it whilst in one of the tea houses along the Khumbu Valley.

He added that he could have “done more” to protect himself, such as being more diligent with handwashing, and wearing a mask all day.

“Not many people used masks on the trek,” recalled Mr Ness, who had been feeling sick for about six days in the mountains before being evacuated on April 15 by helicopter.

He was taken to two different hospitals in the Nepali capital Kathmandu, and tested positive for the virus three times.

He has since recovered – testing negative on April 22 – and is now staying with friends in the city.

Hundreds of foreign climbers are expected to attempt the ascent this spring season, which began in April, after the slopes were shut off due to the pandemic.

Aside from wider tourism revenue, Nepal earns $4m (£3.1m) by issuing Everest climbing permits every year, according to the Kathmandu Post.

All travellers entering Nepal must present a negative Covid report, taken within 72 hours of their first flight, according to Nepal’s Department of Immigration.

Passengers from counties with new Covid variants will be subject to an additional 10 days of hotel quarantine. If a test comes back negative after five days, they will be allowed to spend their remaining five days in home quarantine.

Reporting by the BBC’s Waiyee Yip.