Austrian ski resorts' coronavirus quarantines cut short by several days

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian authorities said coronavirus quarantines would be lifted this week at three of the country's top ski resorts, including one that became a byword for mishandling the outbreak, removing the restrictions days before they were due to expire. The resort town of Ischgl and its surroundings, near the junction of Austria, Switzerland and Italy, are the source of Austria's biggest cluster of infections - more than 600 cases spread across the country and possibly twice as many abroad, the country's public health agency has said. In February and March the virus found a breeding ground in crowded apres-ski bars at many resorts.

Reuters April 22, 2020 00:11:10 IST
Austrian ski resorts' coronavirus quarantines cut short by several days

Austrian ski resorts coronavirus quarantines cut short by several days

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian authorities said coronavirus quarantines would be lifted this week at three of the country's top ski resorts, including one that became a byword for mishandling the outbreak, removing the restrictions days before they were due to expire.

The resort town of Ischgl and its surroundings, near the junction of Austria, Switzerland and Italy, are the source of Austria's biggest cluster of infections - more than 600 cases spread across the country and possibly twice as many abroad, the country's public health agency has said.

In February and March the virus found a breeding ground in crowded apres-ski bars at many resorts. By the time the first person in Ischgl tested positive on March 7, hundreds of foreign tourists from across Europe had been infected and returned home.

Ischgl and the Paznaun Valley surrounding it, as well as another resort, St Anton am Arlberg, were put under quarantine on March 13, followed days later by the resort town of Soelden. All three have been sealed off since then.

The conservative-led government of Tyrol province has acknowledged that mistakes were made and the national government has said they will be examined at a later date. The mayor of Ischgl has said the authorities acted soon after the first positive test on March 7.

The Tyrol government said earlier this month that after a testing offensive in the three resorts it had "no choice" but to extend the quarantines by two weeks until April 26 because the virus was still so widespread - roughly 19% of the tests in Ischgl and 13% in St Anton were positive.

"In the last 12 days there were only 10 new positive tests in the whole Paznaun Valley, St Anton and Soelden. For that reason, after consulting with the medical experts, it is no longer justifiable to keep these areas isolated beyond the federal (lockdown) regime," Tyrol's government said on Tuesday.

The quarantines will be lifted on Thursday, three days earlier than previously announced, it added in a statement.

Tyrol's government has been widely accused of mismanaging the outbreaks at Ischgl and St Anton, partly because when the quarantines were imposed there foreign tourists were still allowed to leave, further spreading the disease.

When Iceland added Ischgl to a list of coronavirus risk areas on March 5 after a group returned home after apparently contracting it there, Tyrol's government issued a statement saying they were probably infected on their flight back.

It was only four days later that a bar thought to be at the centre of the outbreak was ordered closed.

Despite such mistakes, Austria has fared relatively well in the pandemic, reporting just 491 deaths so far, fewer than many larger countries suffer daily. Confirmed infections have been rising by less than 2% a day and the country has started loosening its lockdown.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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