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Trial begins over COVID-19 superspreader event at Austrian ski resort

A snow-dusted ski slope in Ischgl, Austria
A ski slope in the Alpine town of Ischgl, Austria, where a massive coronavirus outbreak occurred in early 2020.
(Matthias Schrader / Associated Press)

A civil trial opened Friday in Austria over the government’s handling of a massive coronavirus outbreak at an Alpine ski resort that relatives say resulted in unnecessary infections and deaths.

The early 2020 outbreak in Ischgl, a popular resort in western Austria, is considered one of Europe’s first COVID-19 superspreader events.

Sieglinde and Ullrich Schopf, the widow and son of a 72-year-old Austrian man who died of COVID-19 after becoming infected in Ischgl, are seeking about 100,000 euros ($117,000) in compensation from the government. Theirs is seen as a test case for a larger class-action suit involving hundreds of people who fell ill with COVID-19 following a trip to the Paznaun valley in February and March 2020.

The family is supported by Austria’s Consumer Protection Assn., which said it is open to a negotiated settlement.

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“Stopping people from leaving and arriving in the Paznaun valley or at least issuing a travel warning — the authorities failed to do that,” said Alexander Klauser, a lawyer representing the Schopf family. “Thousands of people left the Paznaun valley unhindered, thousands of people arrived without a clue that they were in danger.”

An independent commission last year concluded that authorities in the Tyrol region acted too slowly to shut down ski resorts in the valley after it became clear they were dealing with one of Europe’s first coronavirus outbreaks in March 2020. But the panel didn’t find evidence that political or business pressure played a role in the decisions.

Klauser said that even after authorities issued a directive to close apres-ski bars, it wasn’t enforced strongly enough.

“Open-air mass gatherings which were forbidden according to the directive continued,” he said. “The police just watched on without doing anything.”


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