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Austria hears first lawsuit over virus outbreak in Ischgl ski resort

  • 17 Sep 2021

The case is the first of 15 lawsuits filed by plaintiffs, accusing the authorities of not responding quickly enough to Covid-19 outbreaks in the province of Tyrol.

A picture taken on April 23, 2020 shows an aerial view of the village of Ischgl, a tourism hotspot, after the quarantine ordered for western Tyrol, Austria's worst hit region by the new coronavirus pandemic, has been lifted. ( AFP )

The first civil lawsuit begins in a court in Vienna over a notorious outbreak of coronavirus at the popular ski resort of Ischgl in March 2020, where thousands of people from 45 countries claim to have become infected.

The case is the first of 15 lawsuits filed by plaintiffs from Austria and Germany, accusing the authorities of not responding quickly enough to Covid-19 outbreaks in Ischgl and other resorts in the province of Tyrol.

It is being brought on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Hannes Schopf, who died after contracting the virus in Ischgl.

Lawyer Alexander Klauser, acting for the Schopf family and the VSV consumer organisation helping them and others bring their cases to court, said the official shortcomings that allowed Ischgl and the surrounding area to become a virus hotspot were manifold.

He pointed to a report last October by an independent commission of experts which found that local officials had "reacted too late" and made "serious miscalculations" when alerted by Iceland on March 5 that several of its nationals had tested positive on returning home.

Local officials "had at least 48 hours to react" after the warning, Klauser said.

They also missed an opportunity to prevent more tourists coming to the valley that weekend, and the regional government cast doubt on whether the Icelandic tourists had been infected in Ischgl, he said.

Klauser also accused the local authorities of doing "too little, too late" when a restaurant worker tested positive for the virus, saying contact tracing was insufficient and the implementation of restrictions on tourist activity over the subsequent few days was only "halting".

When the valley was finally placed in quarantine, an orderly evacuation of the area was "thwarted" by the chaotic manner in which it was announced and organised, Klauser continued, pointing the finger at Chancellor Sebastian Kurz as well.

According to Schopf's widow, the retired journalist and avid skier caught the virus during the panicked evacuation by bus, crammed with other tourists who were sneezing and coughing for three hours.

The Schopf family is now suing the Republic of Austria for $120,000 over his death.

Of the 6,000 people who claim to have contracted the virus in Ischgl and the surrounding area, five percent suffer from symptoms of long Covid, including headaches, sleep disturbance and shortness of breath, the VSV association said. 

In total, 32 people have died.

Austria's vital skiing sector was hard-hit in the 2020-2021 season, with some stations reporting falls in visitor numbers of up to 90 percent.

READ MORE: Vector spread from Austrian ski town was toxic mix of business and politics

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