Kathmandu: As Nepal is scrambling to find enough oxygen for a swelling number of COVID-19 patients, the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA) has also taken the initiative to collect oxygen cylinders from mountaineers.
According to the association, around 5,000 oxygen cylinders are being used by mountaineers for climbing the world’s tallest Mt. Qomolangma and other Himalayan peaks at the moment.
The cylinders with mountaineers are light in weight, portable and can supply oxygen for three to four hours to the climbers at a high altitude, according to expedition organizers.
Office bearers of the NMA said they are holding discussions with expedition organizing companies about the possibility of the mountaineers handing over their cylinders.
Nepal’s Department of Tourism has issued a total of 408 permits for climbers aiming for Mt. Qomolangma, with another 740 permits for those attempting to climb other Himalayan mountains.
Though the Nepali Sherpa guides and some others do not need climbing permits, they have to take oxygen with them as well.
Santa Bir Lama, president of the NMA, told Xinhua on Monday that in initial discussions, some expedition organizers responded that they would talk about the matter later “as almost all oxygen cylinders are currently on the mountains.”
Most of the climbers are expected to return in the third and fourth week of May.
The NMA has, however, handed over some old oxygen cylinders used by mountaineers to the National Innovation Center Nepal, a non-profit organization established by Nepali innovator Mahabir Pun that has been producing medical equipment for the fight against COVID-19.
“We had asked the NMA if it could make available oxygen cylinders used by the mountaineers for potentially using them to provide oxygen to the COVID-19 patients,” Pun told Xinhua. “There is the possibility of receiving 25-30 old oxygen cylinders from the NMA at the moment.”
Some expedition organizers said they would be interested in providing oxygen cylinders to help fight the pandemic.
“The NMA has not yet consulted with me about this. We are ready to provide the cylinders for temporary use as they are very expensive,” said Mingma Sherpa, chairperson of the Seven Summit Treks.
Ang Tshering Sherpa, founder of the Asian Trekking, said he himself is involved in the effort of collecting such oxygen cylinders for COVID-19 patients.
“If the cylinders are available along with their regulators, they possibly can be used to help COVID-19 patients,” said Sherpa, former president of the NMA.
But the oxygen manufacturers who supply medical oxygen for hospitals do not have the experience of filling up cylinders used by climbers. “We are not sure about whether such cylinders can be used at hospitals as the regulators are different to what hospitals are using currently,” said Gaurav Sarda, president of the Oxygen Industries Association of Nepal.
A second wave of coronavirus ravaging the country for the past weeks has left more and more people sick and dead, while due to an acute shortage of oxygen, a number of hospitals have stopped taking in additional COVID-19 patients.
On Monday, Nepal reported the deaths of 139 people from COVID-19, the highest death toll in the country in a single day, and a record high of 9,127 new infections in the last 24 hours has brought the total cases to 403,794.
In the efforts to get more oxygen, police have been mobilized to confiscate hoarded cylinders, and the officers even approached jewellery shops and iron wielding centers for oxygen, according to the Himalayan Times of Nepal.
In face of the dire situation, Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on Monday once again called for international support, naming vaccines, diagnostic tools, oxygen kits, critical care medicines and equipment in particular.
The Nepali government is sending a plane to China this week to take back medical supplies donated by the northern neighbor, according to Nepali government officials.