Skiers set to unleash legal avalanche on Austria over coronavirus

Some 400 people exposed to coronavirus while on ski holidays to Austria are ready to join a lawsuit that seeks to pin the blame on local authorities for responding slowly as the crisis snowballed, a consumer group said Friday.

Skiers set to unleash legal avalanche on Austria over coronavirus
Photo: picture alliance/dpa

Two days after launching an appeal to join a class action lawsuit against authorities in the popular ski region of Tyrol, the VSV consumer association said it had already been contacted by 400 people, the majority of whom are Germans.

Tyrol authorities have come under blistering criticism for failing to quickly respond to signs of an outbreak of the new coronavirus at a popular ski resort, thus helping spread it across Europe and further afield.

The VSV said it hopes to gather witness statements via its website and bring a case on the basis that “the closure of skiable areas was delayed for commercial reasons.”

The virus spread after German television flagged a first contamination in late February to an employee of a popular bar in the resort of Ischgl which tourists continued to frequent as the resort remained open for two weeks thereafter.

The resort has since been linked to hundreds of virus cases notably in Germany and Austria, Denmark and Norway with the original sufferer understood to have unwittingly acted as a “super spreader.”

Other bar revellers who have caught the virus came from Canada, the United Kingdom, Iceland and Sweden. It was not until almost a fortnight later that the bar, and then the resort itself, were placed in lockdown.

The delay has caused a political storm and Austria's government has promised to investigate on the basis that “errors may have been made” in the handling of the crisis.

Stung by criticism, regional Tyrol authorities insist they took “very radical” action in a timely manner.

Since March 18, the whole of the Tyrol region — bordering Italy and known throughout Europe for its ski areas and lively after-ski parties — and its 750,000 inhabitants have been in quarantine, cut off from the rest of Austria.

As of Friday, the country had recorded more than 7,000 COVID-19 cases with 58 deaths.

Austrian prosecutors said last Tuesday they were investigating possible negligence over the delay in closing the resort, prosecutors in regional capital Innsbruck saying they were investigating a claim for “reckless endangering of people through infectious disease.”

Consumer protection activist Peter Kolba has also filed a complaint against the Tyrolean authorities, including regional governor Guenther Platter, on Tuesday, accusing them of allowing warnings on the risk of infection to go unheeded. Platter insists authorities took “very quick” and “very radical” decisions to contain the virus.

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EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

Austria's capital city Vienna has begun registration appointments for those who want to get a monkeypox vaccine. Here's what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How to register for the monkeypox vaccine in Vienna

As of September 9th, people can make reservations for monkeypox vaccination in Vienna, authorities announced. It is possible to register for the vaccine using the health service line by calling 1450 or via the Impfservice website.

The City of Vienna has said the pre-registration is needed because all planning will be done through a central system due to a shortage of vaccines.

“Please understand that due to the vaccine shortage, we cannot offer preventive monkeypox vaccination to everyone interested. We can use the reservation platform to quickly allocate available appointments and contact interested parties as soon as there are more vaccines”, the authorities said.

After the registration, people will be contacted to book appointments on September 14th. The first available date will be September 19th.

READ ALSO: Monkeypox in Austria: What causes it and is it serious?

Who should be vaccinated against monkeypox?

Vaccination of the general population is currently not recommended.

Preventive vaccination is only offered to health care workers with a very high risk of exposure to people with monkeypox (designated monkeypox departments/outpatient clinics/offices) and persons with individual risk behaviour (persons with frequently changing sexual contacts), the City of Vienna said.

The health authorities in Vienna also have a specific information sheet in English with more information on the disease.

Monkeypox is a notifiable disease caused by a virus closely related to the smallpox virus and which can cause a condition similar to smallpox but rarely deadly. People with immunodeficiencies, pregnant women and children are at risk of more severe symptoms.

The virus spreads from person to person through contact with infectious skin lesions, via air droplets through speaking, coughing, sneezing, or other body fluids, and when having prolonged and close physical contact, e.g. through sexual intercourse.

READ ALSO: Austria recommends 4th Covid vaccine dose for everyone over 12

Usually, the first symptoms show up 5 to 14 days (at the latest, 21 days) after exposure. These include fever, general exhaustion, headaches, muscle and body aches, gastrointestinal problems and frequently painfully swollen lymph nodes.

“If you have symptoms and have had contact with someone with monkeypox, you must self-isolate at once and call 1450. If you have a confirmed monkeypox infection, you need to stay in self-isolation until the last crust has fallen off”, the Austrian authorities added.