More than 5,000 people from across Europe, and including 28 from the USA, are seeking to join a class-action lawsuit against the Austrian ski resort at the center of a criminal investigation that seeks to pin the blame on local authorities for their handling of the outbreak, and by initially trying to bury it.
Seven weeks after launching an appeal to join a class-action lawsuit against authorities in the popular ski region of Tirol, the VSV consumer association said it had already been contacted by over 5,000 people.
Allegedly, Ischgl’s local ski resort — Silvretta Mountain — was allowed to remain open for a week after the resort knew that they had a coronavirus outbreak. On March 4, several Icelandic nationals tested positive for COVID-19 after having returned from Ischgl. CNN reports that Iceland warned Austrian officials that the travelers had contracted the coronavirus in Ischgl, but by that time it was already too late — the virus was already in full swing in the alps. Some are suggesting that the initial outbreak could have gone back further than the first week of March.
On March 24, Austrian prosecutors opened an investigation into allegations that a suspected infection in the resort was covered up as early as February, The Telegraph said in a recent article. They said they were investigating possible negligence over the delay in closing the resort and are investigating a claim for the “reckless endangering of people through infectious disease.”
- Related: Austrian Ski Resort Linked to THOUSANDS of Coronavirus Cases | Resort Stayed Open 2-WEEKS After Confirmed Cases in February
After the March 4 warning from Iceland, Austrian authorities allowed the ski resort to operate for another nine days before fully quarantining the resort on March 13. The medical authority of Tyrol had released a press release on March 8, stating that there was “no reason to worry.”
The Austrian media has accused Ischgl business owners of ‘wilfully spreading the virus’ by putting tourism takings before public health. Ischgl and the surrounding area sees around 500,000 visitors each winter.
“Greed took precedence over the responsibility for the health of the community and guests.”
– Austria’s Der Standard Daily.
Town officials, however, deny the allegations, insisting that they adhered to all public health warnings issued by the Austrian government and have since broken their silence and released their own timeline of events.
- Related: Austrian Province of Tirol Provides Detailed Timeline in Defence Against Ischgl Coronavirus Lawsuit
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.
Questions about just how much authorities and officials knew and when they knew it is central to the criminal proceedings. It’s alleged that high-ranking politicians, mayors, hotel owners and powerful representatives of the ski industry, put economic interests ahead of public safety.
“They had good reasons to cover this up, and those reasons are financial.”
– VSV leader Peter Kolba
The class action is likely to hinge “on whether there were culpable, unlawful actions by the authorities,” Heinz Mayer, former dean of the faculty of law at the University of Vienna told the Washington Post.
One of the travelers seeking to join the lawsuit is a New Jersey man who claims he passed the virus on to his father who then died of COVID-19 three-weeks later.
The number of new infections in Austria is continuing to decrease and the strict measures for the containment of the coronavirus can, therefore, be loosened in a step by step process. Austria is currently in a phase of gradual, secure, and monitored re-opening. The gastronomy sector and museums was able to reopen on May 15th, accommodation facilities, and recreational operations will follow on May 29th.
The next step will be allowing cross-border travel to neighboring countries with comparable good results as Austria. The opening of the border to Germany has already been announced for June 15th.
Austria has had 16,068 confirmed coronavirus cases and 626 deaths.