Authorities in Austria are set to face the first legal challenges from people who claim they caught the coronavirus at a popular ski resort next month.
In what could become a class action lawsuit, hundreds of people are preparing to sue local authorities in the resort of Ischgl in the Tyrolean Alps.
Lawyers said on Wednesday they are ready to bring the first cases by the end of September.
The tiny resort was one of the main centres of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, and is now believed to have spread the virus to 45 countries as people returned home from skiing holidays.
Lawyers accuse local authorities of failing to take adequate precautions and allowing the resort to stay open after it was clear there was an outbreak.
“In individual cases we’re talking about claims of €100,000 (£90,000),” said Peter Kolba, one of Austria’s best-known consumer rights lawyers.
The Austrian Consumer Protection Association (VSV), which Mr Kolba heads, called for people who believe they may have caught the virus in Ischgl to come forward in March.
It says it has collected evidence from more than 6,000 people and around 1,000 have decided to join the legal action.
They are said to include the relatives of people who died after becoming infected with the virus in Ischgl, and at least one German who has suffered serious long-term health issues.
Ischgl is now believed to have been the scene of one of the first coronavirus “superspreader” events in Europe. Hundreds of infections in countries including Germany, Iceland, Norway and Denmark have been traced back to the resort, and it has been linked to suspected cases in the UK.
The VSV has accused local authorities of keeping the resort open “for commercial reasons” despite knowing it was facing an outbreak.
Ischgl remained open for a full week after Iceland warned Austria it was seeing multiple cases in returning skiers, and for several days after a barman at Kitzloch, a popular apres ski venue, tested positive.
The bar was known for “beer pong”, a game in which people passed a ping pong ball from glass to glass using their mouths, and video has emerged of it packed with revellers.
“People were hot and sweaty from skiing, and waiters were delivering shots to tables in their hundreds. You couldn't have a better home for a virus,” Daren Bland, a British IT consultant who became sick after visiting Ischgl in January —before the outbreak was detected — told the Telegraph.
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Separately, Ischgl this week unveiled new measures to protect visitors when the ski season begins in November.
The resort once known as the “Ibiza of the Alps” will be transformed. The raucous apres ski scene will be banned and numbers will be strictly limited in restaurants to allow social distancing.
Facemasks will be compulsory on ski lifts, buses and in all indoor public areas. All those working at the resort will be obliged to provide negative coronavirus tests and face daily temperature checks.
Guests will also have their temperatures checked and are advised to obtain a negative coronavirus test before visiting. Voluntary tests will be available on site.