A man who became the first person to test positive for COVID-19 at Mount Everest base camp says it was “an easy decision” to travel to the world’s highest mountain during the pandemic because the trip was cheaper.
Norwegian climber Erlend Ness chose not heed his country’s advice not to leave the country amid a global rise in cases, flying to Nepal in his effort to scale the legendary peak.
But he became ill on the trek to the mountain’s base camp and eventually had to be evacuated by helicopter.
He said he had climbed six of the “Seven Summits” – the highest peaks in each of the world’s continents – but failed in his attempt to reach the top of Everest three years ago because he had “low energy”.
And asked why he had chosen to try again in the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than three million people, he suggested it was because doing so would be cheaper now.
“My guide offered me free guiding, so it was an easy decision to go back,” he told Sky News.
He said he began to feel “weak with a very low energy level” during his trek to base camp, which he initially put down to altitude sickness.
He said that after some days he “really started to feel bad”, but decided to continue following his team up to base camp.
There his condition worsened and he said doctors concluded he had “some cracks” in his lungs, and he was evacuated to hospital in Kathmandu, where he tested positive
Mr Ness said he must have contracted COVID during the trek to base camp because had tested negative upon leaving Norway and arriving in Nepal.
“It was very surprising for me that I got the virus,” he said.
“I didn’t think it was COVID before I got the positive test result.”
He added: “I feel good now. I have recovered quite well. I tested negative at the hospital two days ago and I’m now living with a Sherpa family here in Kathmandu.”
A mountain guide, Austrian Lukas Furtenbach, warned the virus could spread among the hundreds of other climbers, guides and helpers who are now camped on the base of Everest if all of them are not checked “urgently”.
Any outbreak could prematurely end the climbing season, just ahead of a window of good weather in May, he said.
A Nepalese mountaineering official denied there were currently any active cases on the mountains.
Mira Acharya, director at the Department of Mountaineering, said she had no official information about the coronavirus cases and only reports of illnesses like pneumonia and altitude sickness.
Mountaineering was closed in Nepal last year due to the pandemic and hundreds of foreign climbers returned to Everest this year for the first time since May 2019.
The country earns $4m (£3.1m) through Everest climbing permits every year, with additional income through wider tourism according to the Kathmandu Post.
All travellers entering Nepal must show a negative COVID-19 test result, taken within 72 hours of their first flight.
COVID-19: Delaying second dose of coronavirus vaccine could cut deaths by up to 20%, study suggests | World News
Delaying the second dose of a COVID vaccine so more people can get a first dose could cut deaths by up to 20%, a study suggests.
The UK chose to use this strategy at the start of its rollout in December, with most people getting their second dose around 12 weeks after their first.
That’s despite a recommended interval of three weeks for the Pfizer jab and four to 12 weeks for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The peer-reviewed paper, published in the British Medical Journal, used a simulation model to test a daily rollout rate of 0.1%, 0.3% and 1% of the population.
Researchers found estimated deaths per 100,000 people fell from 442 to 402, 241 to 204, and 86 to 50 respectively – comparing standard dosing with a delayed strategy.
The results assume a first vaccine offers 80% protection, which is the estimate of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The US study found the delayed approach worked especially well for under-65s at all speeds of rollout tested.
“The results suggest that, under specific conditions, a decrease in cumulative mortality, infections, and hospital admissions can be achieved when the second dose of vaccine is delayed,” said the authors – who include experts from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“This was most significant when the second dose was delayed in people below 65 years of age, with second doses still prioritised for those over 65.
“The conditions in which these benefits were observed included the first-dose vaccine efficacy being above 70% and vaccination rates remaining below 1% of the population per day.”
Dr Peter English, a retired consultant in communicable disease control, said the UK decision to delay second doses had “proven highly effective”.
He said concerns about pushing back the second dose were “misplaced”.
“Everything we already knew about vaccines also tells us that a longer prime-boost interval enhances the breadth and depth of the immune response, giving longer-lasting immunity that is likely to provide greater cross-protection against variant strains,” he said.
“There is relatively little knowledge about this specifically related to COVID-19 vaccines – although such data as we have seen is consistent with this.
“It goes beyond this paper; but it seems likely that increasing the prime-boost interval will lead to better, longer-lasting immunity, as well as protecting more people more quickly.”
Post-Brexit fish fight: Jersey isn’t backing down and French are retaliating | World News
On Monday morning in the harbour of Granville in Normandy, the anchors were up before dawn.
While most of the town slept, the fishermen boarded their boats, slacks in hands, cigarettes in mouths.
For many the last time they went out wasn’t to fish but to fight.
A week ago 50-or-so boats from here and other towns up the coast sailed to protest outside the port of St Helier.
The Cap Lihou fishing boat, her captain and three crew were among them.
Their target: new post-Brexit licences needed to fish in Jersey’s waters.
Today, however, it was scallops they sought, with huge mechanical dredging nets pulling up sand, shellfish and seafood.
It’s hard, gruelling work. For the 12 hours they spent on the boat, the young men barely stopped; managing the machinery and sifting through the catch by hand.
But they’d rather be fishing in the deeper waters off Jersey – an area that is wider and where the produce is often bigger.
The new licences stipulate how many days each boat is allowed to work there as well as placing restrictions on some equipment.
The Cap Lihou is now only allowed to fish in Jersey’s waters for 22 days of the year. Previously it would head there at least 100 days in any given year.
Captain Baptiste Guenon estimates the new rules will cut his business by half.
In the cockpit, he points out the navigation system on the boat which tracks where the other vessels are. Almost none of them were in Jersey’s waters, most of them concentrated in just a few square miles.
It’s a situation he feels is unfair and unsustainable.
“Jersey needs France in order to sell its produce,” he says. “And we need them for 50% of the fishing waters we use.
“It’s an agreement that’s been in place for years and that they’ve broken.”
Fishing for him is more than just a livelihood, it’s a family history and tradition. Every man in his family all the way up to his great-grandfather have been fishermen.
Because of its geographical proximity, French fishermen have fished in Jersey’s waters amicably for centuries.
Baptiste and his colleagues say all they want is a continuation of what they’ve always had, and they insist new conditions weren’t discussed or agreed.
The British authorities say that time allocated in each licence is based on how much each boat has previously fished in Jersey’s waters. It can be updated if more records are forthcoming.
But not all boats have good enough tracking data to prove where they’ve been and others have fallen through loopholes.
Baptiste says he has a friend who’s been a fisherman for years and who invested a million euros in a new boat just two months ago.
But because the new vessel had only been at sea a few weeks and because the licences are for boats not the captains, he’s been rejected for a licence to fish Jersey waters.
For now, Jersey isn’t backing down and the French are retaliating.
Jersey fishermen are now being banned and blocked from landing their catch and selling it at numerous ports along the Normandy and Brittany coastlines.
It means many now have too much fish and nowhere to sell it.
Louis Jackson owns The Fresh Fish Company based in Jersey and although he supports the new licensing system, he’s concerned about escalation.
“I’m worried about the future of the fishing industry in Jersey,” he says. “Because of Brexit, we have a golden opportunity to change things and be on a more-than-even playing field.
“At the moment everything is geared towards the French.”
And there are other serious threats on the table. The French maritime minister Annick Girardin has previously threatened to cut electricity to Jersey. Some 90% of the power to the island comes from France via underwater cables.
This week she said talks were ongoing but there hasn’t yet been any agreement.
Meanwhile, the EU backs France.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s former chief Brexit negotiator, said the British were acting like “pirates”.
But any official intervention would be slow and likely take many months to resolve: time fisherman on neither side have.
As his catch was hoisted off the Cap Lihou and onto the harbour, Baptiste looked on.
“I’m angry, astonished but above all confused,” he says. “If it doesn’t get sorted soon, things could get a lot worse.”
Politically there’s still a lot to unpack. Fishermen have little choice but to wait.
Israel-Gaza violence: Crisis is Joe Biden’s first major test in the Middle East – but will diplomacy prevent war? | World News
With Israeli troops preparing for a possible ground invasion, Israeli air strikes pulverising new targets in the Gaza Strip and Hamas rockets still blasting towards Israeli cities, urgent diplomacy is the only way to prevent all-out war.
US President Joe Biden seems to think there is a greater chance than not that the worst Israeli-Palestinian hostilities in at least seven years will end soon.
But there is no sign of any de-escalation on the ground.
A spokesman for the Israeli military said on Thursday that the Israeli Defence Force has its “marching orders for the day”, while overnight Palestinian militants launched another volley of rockets towards Tel Aviv – Israel’s commercial capital.
Diplomatic levers are being pulled from every side.
There have been public calls for calm from across the international community.
The United States, China, Russia, the UK and the European Union are just some of those to have made official statements.
Washington has sent a senior diplomat – Hady Amr – to the region to speak with the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas. But not to Hamas, which is running the Palestinian offensive along with a fellow militant organisation, Islamic Jihad.
The United States has significant leverage over Israel as its closest ally and a key military partner. But it does not have any direct lines of communication with Hamas – designated by the US as a terrorist organisation – so it can only reach them via intermediaries.
Therefore, the key for a successful negotiation will be the ability of Egypt and Qatar to help broker a deal.
Both countries have been instrumental in persuading Hamas to dial down the violence in previous conflicts with Israel.
The United Nations is also involved but as yet there is little evidence of any progress.
This crisis is the first major test for President Joe Biden in the Middle East.
Since taking over from Donald Trump, he has not seen the region as a priority and has not yet appointed an ambassador to Israel.
However, the events of the past week appear to have changed all of that, with the president speaking directly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and saying that the two men will keep in regular contact.
The increased engagement by the White House is clear evidence that attempting to defuse the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians is once again a top priority.
The big question, though, is whether that will be enough or whether this region is again about the plunge into a brutal, bloody war.
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