Ischgl, Austria, the Ski Area at Center of Class Action Lawsuit, Has World’s Highest COVID-19 Infection Rate

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Tourists flock to Ischgl for the party scene. And skiing…

A university study has shown that 42% of residents in the Austrian ski area of Ischgl have antibodies for COVID-19, giving the area the world’s highest COVID infection rate. Ischgl is suspected of being a “breeding ground” for coronavirus, with thousands of cases across the world being traced back to the area.

“The seroprevalence of study participants from Ischgl is 42.4%. We are dealing in Ischgl with the highest seroprevalence ever proven in a study. Even though at that rate herd immunity cannot be assumed, Ischgl’s population should be protected (from the virus) to a large extent.”

– Dorothee von Laer, director of the Medical University of Innsbruck’s Institute of Virology

The prevalence rate is the highest recorded in scientific literature so far, said Dorothee van Laer, a virologist at the Medical University of Innsbruck who led the study. Similar studies conducted nearby have resulted in much lower infection rates, for example Switzerland’s Groeden with 27% and Geneva with 10%.

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 which is 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. 

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,” suggested 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 issued their timeline of events.

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Ischgl trail map

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 articleThey 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.”

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.”

Ischgl, Austria

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.

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The Kitzloch bar, Ischgl.

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.

It seems though that the Ischgl outbreak is an outlier, as Austria has one of western Europe’s lowest infection rates. The nation introduced a national lockdown in mid-March and began loosening that lockdown a month later, reports Reuters.

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