VIENNA (AP) — An Austrian consumer protection group said Wednesday it has filed four civil lawsuits against the country’s government for failing to contain a coronavirus outbreak at an Alpine ski resort during the early phase of the pandemic that has been blamed for thousands of infections around the world.
Peter Kolba, who heads the VSV consumer association, said the four cases —involving an Austrian and three Germans — will test the ground for a further 1,000 people who have asked to be represented by the group after falling ill with COVID-19 following a trip to Ischgl in February and March.
The outbreak in Ischgl, a resort in western Austria that’s popular with skiers across Europe, is considered one of the earliest ‘superspreader’ events on the continent.
Kolba said his association has been contacted by 6,000 people from 45 countries as far away as Iceland, Netherlands, Ireland and the United States. About 80% of those tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from Ischgl.
He accused authorities in the Paznaun Valley, where Ischgl is located, of being beholden to the interests of the local tourism industry. Numerous infections allegedly occurred in cramped apres-ski bars where tourists often party the night away after a day on the slopes.
Alexander Klausner, a lawyer for the VSV, said one of the four cases was submitted Tuesday on behalf of relatives of a man who died as a result of COVID-19. Two other plaintiffs are still suffering effects from the infection in spring, while a fourth had only a mild illness.
Kolba said the plaintiffs are seeking damages of up to 100,000 euros ($118,000) each from Austrian federal authorities, who hold ultimate responsibility for enforcing health regulations.