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Four probed over outbreak at Austrian ski resort

September 30, 2020

Tourists have accused local authorities of taking too long to act and endangering people during a panicked evacuation of the area. More than 6,000 infections have been linked to visitors of the popular resort. 

Snow of the roofs of buildings and homes in Ischgl
Image: picture-alliance/imageBroker

Austrian prosecutors said on Wednesday they are investigating four suspects over alleged mishandling of a coronavirus outbreak at the Ischgl ski resort in early March. The outbreak has been linked to thousands of infections around Europe.

More than 6,000 infections in people from 45 countries, including Germany, the UK and the US, were tied to the outbreak at the popular ski resort in the western Austrian province of Tyrol. 

Consumer advocates have charged that authorities shut down the resort too late and that the uncoordinated mass departure of guests led to the high number of infections linked to tourists at the resort. 

Infected visitors on cramped buses

Tourists have accused local authorities of failing to inform them of the outbreak and allowing for a panicked evacuation during which many had to cram onto public transport alongside sneezing and coughing visitors. 

The criminal investigation is focused on alleged intentional or negligent exposure to an infectious disease.

"In particular the implementation of a decree in regards to traffic restrictions in Ischgl as well as the quarantine of Paznauntal valley is being probed more closely," Hansjoerg Mayr from the public prosecutors' office said in Innsbruck. He did not disclose the name and positions of the suspects and said his office has yet to decide whether the suspects will be charged and tried in court. 

A sign for Ischgl with a line through it
Thousands of people were infected by people who left IschglImage: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Gruber

According to Austrian broadcaster ORF, the four people under investigation include Ischgl's mayor, Werner Kurz, and Markus Maass, the head of the Landeck district, which administers Ischgl. 

Read more: Austrian government faces lawsuits over handling of Ischgl ski resort outbreak

Several days after authorities were made aware of infections in one of Ischgl's tightly packed bars, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced that the resort area would be placed under lockdown and that thousands of tourists would have just an hour to evacuate.

Tourists subsequently reported that the 30-kilometer (18-mile) ride to the district's capital took up to seven hours on crowded buses.  

Consumer advocacy group VSV has also accused regional and local politicians, as well as the ski resort's operators of letting the breakout get out of hand. VSV additionally filed a separate lawsuit last week against the Austrian government for its alleged mismanagement of the infections. 

Read more: Coronavirus: Hope in the science of 'superspreaders'

Tyrol province's governor, Guenther Platter, apologized for the high number of cases but said that the virus did not originate at the resort and that individuals could not be held personally responsible for the cases connected to the hotspot, which is known for its wild ski parties. 

To prevent similar clusters during the winter season, authorities have banned partying and imposed curfews for ski regions.

lc/sms (AFP, dpa)