China will set up a "line of separation" on one side of Mount Everest's peak, saying the measure is needed to keep Nepal's COVID-19 outbreak from crossing the border, according to state media.
The plan is part of China's "zero contact strategy" to keep climbers from the Chinese and Nepalese sides of Everest from mixing if they reach the summit on the same day, said Nyima Tsering, head of the Tibetan Sports Bureau, according to the state-run Xinhua news outlet.
Everest straddles the border between Nepal and the Tibetan region of China — where the world's highest mountain is known as Mount Qomolangma. The separation line will be erected by guides who are climbing alongside rope-fixing teams who are readying paths for the looming season.
Officials say the line will cordon off the northern side of the peak, starting from one of the highest Tibetan camps at 8,300 meters (about 27,230 feet), from which mountaineers leave to reach the summit.
China has barred foreigners from visiting Everest since last year, due to the pandemic. But for the 2021 mountaineering season, Chinese nationals have been granted 21 expedition permits for the north side of the mountain, Xinhua reports.
News of China's plan comes after a coronavirus outbreak made headlines at Nepal's Everest Base Camp, which is situated at 17,598 feet. Some climbers were evacuated to the capital, Kathmandu, for further tests and treatment for COVID-19. Last week, Nepalese officials reportedly confirmed around 17 cases, but anecdotal reports have put the number much higher, with more than 30 mountaineers said to be infected.
In addition to the separation line at the summit, the China Tibet Mountaineering Association has set up a checkpoint 300 meters from the base camp where climbers adjust to the high altitude's low oxygen levels, Xinhua said.
Nepal's health ministry has reported more than 403,000 COVID-19 cases, including more than 9,100 new infections on Monday. Nearly 3,900 Nepalese have died from the disease. There are currently more than 93,000 actives cases in Nepal, whose population tops 28 million people.
The rush of new COVID-19 cases has put Nepal's public health system on the brink of disaster, according to Human Rights Watch.
"Large volumes of oxygen equipment and other medical supplies are urgently needed to avert a Covid-19 catastrophe in the country," said Meenakshi Ganguly, HRW's South Asia director.