Inside Europe’s coronavirus ‘ground zero:’ Austrian ski resort Ischgl

ischgl mountain concert coronavirusischgl mountain concert coronavirus

The Austrian ski resort of Ischgl attracts snow bunnies who love to party.

Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images


  • 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.

ischgl ski resort, paznaun valley, austria, tyrol coronavirus hotspot




Source: Tyrol

Ischgl’s ski resort — the third-largest in Tyrol — sits 2,872 meters above the village. The resort has 45 ski lifts and a ski season that lasts through May.

ischgl




Source: Tyrol, Ischgl, The Guardian

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.

silvretta arena ischgl




Source: Tyrol

Ischgl brings in $12,000 annually per hotel bed and sees 500,000 visitors every winter, including high-profile figures like Paris Hilton, Naomi Campbell, and Bill Clinton.

paris hilton ischgl.JPG

Paris Hilton in Ischgl.



Source: CNN, Business Insider

They flock to its famous après-ski bars like Kuhstall, which has been referred to as a “non-stop party” and the “the craziest Austrian disco,” according to two Trip Advisor reviews.

kuhstall




Source: The Guardian, Trip Advisor, Trip Advisor

Ischgl is known for its famous Top of the Mountain concerts, which have brought in big performers like Lenny Kravitz and The Beach Boys.

top of the mounntain ischgl

Thirty Seconds to Mars performed at Ischgl in 2015.



Source: Ischgl, 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

Ischgl may be a winter paradise for snow bunnies — but this year, it became “Ground Zero” of the coronavirus epidemic in Europe, according to German magazine Der Spiegel.

ischgl tyrol ski




Source: Business Insider, Der Spiegel

It’s the source of hundreds of early coronavirus cases in Germany, Iceland, the UK, Norway, Denmark, and Ireland. As of April 2, Ischgl and its surrounding area has seen more than 600 coronavirus infections and has possibly led to twice as many abroad.

ischgl austria




It’s the source of Austria’s biggest coronavirus cluster, a public health official said in a news conference, according to Reuters.

Source: Der Spiegel

Here’s a look at how the spread — and news of it — developed. On March 4, Iceland warned Austrian authorities that a group of its citizens had become infected with the coronavirus after an Ischgl trip.

ischgl.JPG

An aerial view of Ischgl.



Reykjavik labeled Ischgl as a coronavirus risk zone along the same lines as China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran, reported Denise Hruby for CNN. As of March 20, Icelandic authorities were aware of eight people who were specifically infected in Ischgl, she wrote.

In response to the warnings, Austrian authorities said in a press release that it was “unlikely” there was contagion in Tyrol.

“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.

Authorities closed the bar on March 9 and all après-ski bars on March 11, but didn’t shut down the resort until March 13. Austrian authorities have been under fire for what many believe is a slowed response that downplayed the virus.

ischgl closed




“Considering that it is a place where people are in close contact in bars, restaurants, and so on, once they know of … people infected in the same area, they should have initiated a quarantine very quickly,” Christensen told Hruby.

Before the quarantine, authorities had released a statement saying there’s “no reason to worry,” she wrote.

But Tyrolean governor Günther Platter said in a statement sent to Business Insider that health authorities reacted as soon as they had been made aware of cases.

police ischgl

Police monitoring the situation in Tyrol.



In a statement sent to Business Insider’s Mia Jankowicz, Platter said that health authorities immediately contacted the Ischgl doctor once they were notified by Icelandic health authorities. Officials then attempted to identify which hotels the Icelandic tourists had stayed at, and found that no guests or employees at the hotels had reported any flu-like symptoms.

“Nevertheless, the health authorities had issued a directive to test all persons with flu-like symptoms for corona,” said the statement. 

When the Kitzloch bartender tested positive, officials ordered further testing, the disinfection of the bar he worked at, and separation of employees, according to the statement.

“Tyrol was the first province in Austria to take such far-reaching steps,” reads the statement. “In addition, the entire Paznaun valley was quarantined on March 13. Finally, on March 18, the province of Tyrol issued a quarantine order for all 279 municipalities in Tyrol.”

An influenza expert told CNN there was likely at least one “super spreader” at Ischgl who infected as many as 80 people, cutting lead time for authorities to respond “by several days.”

ischgl coronavirus




“That means that there was at least one patient who had a very high viral load, and while most people will infect two to three others on average, these people can transmit the disease to 40, 50, or 80 people,” Monika Redlberger-Fritz, head of the influenza department at the Medical University of Vienna, told Hruby

After the quarantine order, Ischgl tourists were reportedly asked to leave and return directly home without stopping anywhere on the way.

closed bars coronavirus ischgl

A closed bar in Ischgl.



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.

ischgl austria

Police set up road blocks to prevent traffic into the resort and surrounding areas.



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.”

It’s also under criminal investigation after allegations that the ski resort covered up an initial coronavirus infection as early as February.

police ischgl




According to the allegations, a staff member at a local business suspected to be infected with coronavirus wasn’t reported to the health authorities, reported Huggler. The business hasn’t been named.

“The allegations are so serious they have to be investigated immediately,” a spokesman for the Tyrol regional government said.

But there’s been a lot of confusion about who “patient zero” is and when they were identified.

kuhstall march

A YouTube video from March 2020 shows packed crowds at après-ski bar Kuhstall.




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.

ischgl




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.”

Source: Der Spiegel, BBC

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