Tourism

Austria sued for coronavirus outbreaks in ski resorts

A consumer watchdog said Wednesday it is seeking hundreds of thousands of euros in damages from the Austrian state over coronavirus outbreaks in ski resorts suspected of spreading the deadly virus across Europe.

The head of the VSV consumer protection association, Peter Kolba, told a press conference that several civil lawsuits had been filed in a Vienna court over the outbreaks, including one in the now notorious resort of Ischgl.

Kolba says more than 6,000 tourists from 45 countries, including Germany, the UK and the US, have been in touch with the association to report having been infected in ski resorts in western Austria.

At least 32 tourists who visited Austrian ski resorts have died, according to Kolba.

The VSV accuses officials of failing to inform the public of the outbreak in a timely fashion.

Icelandic authorities said on March 5 they thought Ischgl was a risk area after skiers returned from there with coronavirus infections and on March 7 a waiter in a bar became the first person in Ischgl itself to test positive.

However, the ski season — and its attendant partying — continued for several days.

The valley was not put under quarantine until Match 13, and Kolba says the hasty evacuation of tourists aboard crammed buses led to further infections.

Evacuated tourists have described sitting next to others who were sneezing and coughing.

“Chancellor (Sebastian) Kurz is the one who introduced all this chaos,” said Kolba, saying that the abruptness of the government’s quarantine announcement did not leave local authorities enough time to better manage the evacuation.

One case filed by the VSV concerns a 72-year-old Austrian who is thought to have contracted the virus on one of the evacuation buses and later died.

Another case involves a German tourist who was admitted to intensive care.

In both cases the plaintiffs are seeking 100,000 euros ($117,000) in damages.

“These are just the first, but we will bring other lawsuits as well,” Kolba said.

The VSV has also lodged legal complaints in Tyrol, the region where the outbreaks occurred, but says that prosecutors there have not investigated thoroughly enough.

Agence France-Presse

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