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Coronavirus: Austrian government sued for failing to lockdown ski resort during pandemic

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The Austrian government is being sued after claims it failed to lockdown a ski resort properly at the start of the COVID pandemic.

The resort is thought to have been one of the first hubs for the spread of the virus in the country back in February and March.

Hundreds of Austrians and thousands of tourists were infected at Ischgl, with the Austrian public health body saying COVID-19 was there on 5 February.

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A number of the infections were allegedly picked up in packed apres-ski bars in the resort, which is known as the “Ibiza of the Alps”.

Positive tests from resort were first recorded on 7 March – and it was only subsequently that earlier cases were found.

The lawsuits have been filed by a private watchdog named the Consumer Protection Association (Verbraucherschutzverein or VSV).

They argue that authorities in the province of Tyrol reacted too slowly to the outbreak, mishandled the response and possibly buckled to pressure from the tourism sector to not act rapidly.

Officials from Tyrol have said they responded appropriately given what was known at the time.

The lawsuit is not a class-action, but a large scale litigation may come in the future.

VSV chief Peter Kolba told a news conference on Wednesday: “These are only the first lawsuits – others will follow.

“Four cases have been lodged so far, seeking damages of up to €100,000 (£92,068).”

The VSV said it has been contacted by 6,170 people across 40 countries – including the UK. Around 80% of them tested positive for the virus after returning from Ischgl and at least 32 people from the resort cluster have died, AP news agency reported.

Roughly 1,000 of those are being represented by the watchdog, with plans to get in touch with the rest about the possibility of a class-action suit.

There are hopes for the large scale litigation to take place in early 2021.

In an open letter to Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the VSV urged a settlement as lawsuits could take “years if not a decade”.

Mr Kurz’s Austrian People’s Party is also in charge of the regional government in Tyrol.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages from Austrian federal authorities as they are responsible for enforcing health regulations.

While a lockdown was ordered in Ischgl on 13 March, tourists were allowed to leave in what was called a “chaotic” process by VSV.

Mr Kolba told reporters in Vienna: “When it comes to managing the departure… Chancellor Kurz is probably the one who caused the chaos.

“What he did was reveal that something would happen and created an impossible situation for the police on site.”

The lawsuit said authorities had enough information by 7 March to warn new arrivals, but failed to do so.

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