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Following alarm over the new COVID strain in the UK, reports of Brits dodging quarantine in Switzerland made headlines around the world. Now questions over the reports are being raised.
Doubts have emerged as to whether hundreds of Brits holidaying in the popular Swiss ski resort of Verbier did in fact disobey quarantine orders — a story widely circulated in global media in late December.
Reports citing local authorities had said at least 200 vacationers had dodged quarantine orders prompted by the discovery of a highly contagious strain of coronavirus in the UK.
A tourism official in the Valais canton is now denying the scale of the incident, saying that only around a dozen tourists likely skipped town — and that they had no way of knowing who the quarantine orders applied to.
Around the world, Britons were ordered into immediate quarantine as countries scrambled to prevent the spread of the new virus variant.
Local media reports said hotel operators in Verbier sounded the alarm when British guests checked out in the middle of the night and meals were found untouched in the morning.
Verbier tourism director Simon Wiget told Germany's dpa news agency on Monday that, contrary to previous numbers given by venue operators in the ski town, he did not believe that hundreds people had fled. He added that authorities never had official figures of the amount of Britons in the region to whom the quarantine order applied.
Switzerland halted flights from the UK on December 20 and Brits were asked to quarantine for 10 days retrospectively, meaning that by Christmas, many had fulfilled the isolation period.
Wiget said that he did not believe that 200 of the 370 Brits whom the quarantine orders could have applied to had absconded; a figure that was given by municipal spokesperson Jean-Marc Sandoz at the time, who had cited hoteliers and tour operators. His term as spokesperson for the municipality ended on December 31, and he has since declined to comment.
On Sunday, Swiss broadsheet NZZ am Sonntag published a story questioning the veracity of the claims.
It is not clear how many Britons are still in Verbier, how many there were at the time the coronavirus variant was identified, how many were subject to the orders and whether they adhered to them or not.
Wiget said that he did not know how such a miscommunication about dozens of absconding Britons had occured, but stressed that ultimately the buck stopped at the local and regional authorities rather than tourism operators.
"I don't have any information on whether people from the UK did not respect quarantine requirements or left illegally," Wiget told dpa, adding that "certain people respected conditions and others did not — but by no means does that mean all from this group are lawbreakers."