By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - An international expedition abandoned its attempt to scale Mount Everest on Saturday, citing risks posed by an increasing number of COVID-19 cases at the base camp, the organisers said.
Some climbers were evacuated from Everest base camp in April after they fell ill with COVID-19 symptoms as Nepal battles a brutal second wave of infections.
Lukas Furtenbach, of Austrian expedition organising company Furtenbach Adventures, said his team of climbers from America, Norway, Israel, Germany, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg and Romania were abandoning the climb for safety reasons as the number of COVID-19 infections at the base camp was increasing.
"To climb ... with these massively increasing coronavirus numbers and risk the lives of our 20 climbers, 4 mountain guides and 27 Sherpas carelessly, would be irresponsible," Furtenbach said in a statement.
Infections at Everest base camp have surged as "elementary precautionary measures were simply not observed" by some teams, he said, without naming any expeditions.
Tendi Sherpa of the Iceland Trekking and Expedition company, which provided local support to the team, confirmed climbers were returning for fear of the disease.
Department of Tourism Director Mira Acharya said she had no information of any expedition evacuating due to COVID-19 fears.
"Doctors at the base camp said the situation was not as serious as it was reported," she told Reuters. "I did not see any terrible situation there," said Acharya, who returned this week after overseeing preparations at the base camp.
Nepal has reported 447,704 coronavirus cases and 4,856 deaths, according to government data.
The Himalayan nation, which earns millions of dollars from climbers every year, closed the mountain in March 2020 due to the pandemic, but reopened for this year's climbing season that started in April. It issued a record 408 permits to climbers attempting to scale the 8,848.86-metre (29,031.69-foot) peak.
Acharya said more than 150 people had climbed the mountain this month and others were waiting for a new weather window to open up.
Two climbers died of exhaustion on the mountain this week.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma. Editing by Euan Rocha and Mark Potter)