- Ischgl, a popular Austrian ski resort among the elite, has become a coronavirus super spreader that’s led to confirmed cases in six other European countries.
- Austrian authorities have been criticized for waiting nine days to shut down the resort after initial warnings and for downplaying the virus.
- But authorities previously told Business Insider they reacted as soon as they heard about infected cases.
- The government of Tyrol, where Ischgl is located, is currently facing a lawsuit for how it handled the crisis and is under investigation after allegations that it covered up the first case.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The Austrian ski resort of Ischgl is a magnet for the elite.
Hundreds of thousands of tourists, including celebrities, musicians, and politicians, flock to the resort every year for its après-ski party scene and snowy slopes.
But this ski season, Ischgl became associated with something else entirely: the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of cases across six European countries have been traced back to the resort since March — although some reports have said the virus was floating around Ischgl since February.
Austrian authorities are currently being investigated for allegedly covering up an initial case at the resort, and they’re also facing a lawsuit for how they handled the crisis. After Iceland issued initial notifications that eight of its citizens had become infected with the coronavirus in Ischgl, authorities didn’t shut down the resort for nine more days. They also issued press releases that downplayed coronavirus concerns, assuring tourists not to worry.
It’s put them in the hot seat for what many view as a delayed and mishandled response. Take a look inside Ischgl and how it became a “super spreader” of the coronavirus in Europe.
Tucked away in the mountainous Austrian region of Tyrol, the village of Ischgl in Paznauntal Valley is home to 1,500 residents.
The resort is part of Silvretta Arena, a large ski network that straddles the Switzerland-Austria border, and is home to the Alps’ largest freestyle park.
But people don’t just visit one of Tyrol’s most popular ski resorts for its snowy slopes. Part of Ischgl’s draw is its legendary après-ski party scene, which has earned it the nickname “Ibiza of the Alps.”
Source: The Guardian
Others love Ischgl’s gastronomic offerings. The resort is home to Michelin-starred restaurants like Paznaunerstube at the Trofana Royal hotel and award-winning restaurants like Stüva.
A post shared by Daria Ksenz (@dariaksenz)
Source: The Guardian
Three days later, a bartender at popular Ischgl après-ski bar Kitzloch tested positive. Experts say the spread traces back to Ischgl’s “tightly packed bars and clubs” — Kitzloch in particular.
Jan Pravsgaard Christensen, professor of immunology of infectious diseases at the University of Copenhagen, told Hruby that Ischgl tourists had exchanged saliva playing beer pong, which involved spitting ping pong balls into beer glasses that were reused. Bartenders at Kitzloch, including the one who tested positive, also wore brass whistles they blew on to help clear crowds that customers liked to share for fun.
Tyrol authorities originally said transmission this way was “rather unlikely,” according to Hruby. But on March 10, Tyrolean governor Günther Platter said, “We have found that the risk of infection is very high in the bars. All cases go back to one bar,” referring to Kitzloch.
A published text message from a local authority to the bar’s owner urged him to close the bar until the “grass had grown over the affair,” reported Justin Huggler for The Telegraph.
“We visited the Kitzloch and it was rammed, with people singing and dancing on the tables,” Ischgl vacationer Daren Bland told The Sun. “People were hot and sweaty from skiing and waiters were delivering shots to tables in their hundreds. You couldn’t have a better home for a virus.”
A post shared by Jari Hedman (@jarihedmantennis)
Instagram videos show similar ily crowded après-ski places in Ischgl this year.
Bland, a UK resident, visited Ischgl in January with a friend from Minnesota and two friends from Denmark — well before the coronavirus was traced back to the resort.
Bland told the Sun that when he returned home he was sick for 10 days and unable to work after being “knocked for six” and feeling “breathless.” His three family members then fell ill.
He said he thinks he caught coronavirus at Ischgl, but hasn’t been tested for it. If he’s right, he may have been the first coronavirus case in the UK, a month before the disease was said to have begun in the country, according to the Sun.
After the quarantine order, Ischgl tourists were reportedly asked to leave and return directly home without stopping anywhere on the way.
Bernhard Tilg, Tyrol’s provincial councilor responsible for health, care facilities, science, and research, said most returned home to their countries, according to Hruby.
But hotel owners in Tyrol’s capital told local media that “hundreds of Ischgl tourists who were stranded that Friday afternoon checked into their establishments to wait for flights Saturday,” she wrote.
The government in Tyrol is now facing a lawsuit, backed by 2,500 tourists, after its handling of the crisis.
The Austrian Consumer Protection Association (Verbraucherschutzverein, or VSV) first filed a legal complaint against the Tyrolean local government on March 24, saying it suspected the “negligent endangerment of people by communicable diseases,” reported Jankowicz, citing a CNN report.
It then put a call on its website to former tourists of the region saying it may be possible to claim damages. More than 2,500 responses from people affected by coronavirus came flooding in within five days, 80% of whom were German, Jankowicz wrote.
The VSV said on its website that “keeping ski resorts open, even though authorities knew or should have known of a threat of mass infection, is certainly a reason to consider claims for damages.”
But there’s been a lot of confusion about who “patient zero” is and when they were identified.
For weeks, the first case was thought to be the Kitzloch bartender who tested positive because he was the first to be diagnosed, reported Francois Murphy for Reuters.
But in a news conference, Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety’s (AGES) head of public health, Franz Allerberger, said that “patient zero” was a Swiss waitress at Kitzloch who brought the illness in from Switzerland, first exhibiting symptoms on February 5.
Hours later, he corrected this statement to say that “patient zero” was an Austrian waitress at Kitzloch, who first had symptoms on February 8, Murphy wrote. The Swiss waitress, he said, was infected a month later.
Ischgl mayor Werner Kurz said in the news conference he found out the outbreak started in early February, but that the first case came to light in March. “We also weren’t aware of the (Swiss) waitress mentioned by AGES until now,” he said in a statement.
Ischgl mayor Werner Kurz said shutting down the resort was “a catastrophe” for the town. “We implemented all regulations in a timely manner,” he told Der Spiegel.
A statement on Ischgl’s website reads:
“We can guarantee that we in Ischgl have taken the measures specified and have been in discussions with state and federal authorities.
We will of course analyze procedures and clarify what could have been done better, so we can learn for the future. For now, what we all need to do is conquer this virus, become and remain healthy again and gradually find our way back to our usual, much-loved way of life.”