Austria’s Ischgl ski resort ‘mishandled coronavirus outbreak’

Local and federal authorities could have contained the spread of a coronavirus outbreak that infected thousands of tourists in two Austrian ski resorts, according to a report.

Austria's Ischgl ski resort 'mishandled coronavirus outbreak'
Photo: DPA

“From March 8, a correct assessment should have led to the closing of bars, the stopping of ski lifts and orderly management of departures,” of tourists from Ischgl, a village in the western state of Tyrol, the experts found in a report published Monday. 

Instead, after a barkeeper in Ischgl tested positive for Covid-19 on March 7, tourists were not informed.

Skiing and partying continued for several days until a complete and immediate lockdown of Ischgl and Sankt Anton, a nearby ski resort, were announced on March 13.

Tourists were forced to evacuate within hours, and in the end more than 6,000 people from 45 countries, including Britain, the US and Germany, said they contracted Covid-19 on their holidays.

“There were errors of judgement that had consequences,” Ronald Rohrer, the head of the commission and a former vice president of Austria's supreme court, told a press conference in Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol state, on Monday.

The mishandling has been blamed for allowing sick tourists to carry the virus to their respective home countries at a time when much of Europe was yet to see cases, and before the World Health Organisation had declared the coronavirus a pandemic.

The report, based on an investigation by an expert commission set up by the state government, also found grave mistakes in how the quarantine was announced by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, calling it “impromptu and without consideration for the necessary preparation”.

“It provoked a panicked reaction among holidaymakers, and traffic chaos ensued,” the report said.

Two press releases, one of which called the risk of infection “rather unlikely” despite the fact that the barkeeper worked in a crammed apres-ski bar frequented by more than 200 tourists, were “false” and “bad”.

Communications between state and regional officials seen by AFP also show that authorities misled the public to “get Ischgl out of the line of fire,” according to an email sent by Landeck district chief Markus Maass, who administers Ischgl.

The documents seen by AFP include official letters in which the public prosecutor of Tyrol informs four individuals — Maass, Ischgl's Mayor Werner Kurz and two other officials — that they are being investigated for wilfully or negligently endangering people through a contagious diseases.

Three German survivors and the family of an Austrian man who died from the coronavirus after holidaying in Ischgl are claiming damages of between 12,000 and 100,000 euros from the Austrian authorities.

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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.