AGENCIES, Austria: 56-year-old Dane Henrik Lerfeldt has fond memories of Kitzloch, a popular restaurant and bar in the Austrian ski resort town of Ischgl. On vacation three weeks ago, Lerfeldt partied several nights during his stay and four days after his return home, 80km from Copenhagen last week, Lerfeldt and his friend tested positive for the coronavirus last week.
He was among hundreds of people from all over Europe whose infections are traced back to Ischgl, some of them directly to Kitzloch, according to European authorities. And by the time local officials realised the extent of the outbreak, the damage was already done.
Health authorities across Scandinavia confirmed that they have traced several hundred cases to Ischgl. On Tuesday, Norway said nearly 40 per cent of the more than 1,400 infections in the country originated in Austria.
When contacted by media, Bernhard Zangerl, the owner of Kitzloch told German news site t-online on March 16 that his employees must have also contracted the virus from someone, and the site reports Zangerl as saying it was audacious to try to pin this on one company. But there’s more and a blame game has already begun.
The first sign of serious trouble emerged on March 1, when officials in Iceland discovered that 15 passengers on an Icelandair flight arriving the day before from Munich had tested positive for the coronavirus. Fourteen of the infected had been in Ischgl.
Despite an official warning from the Icelandic government on March 4 that a group of its nationals had contracted coronavirus in Ischgl, Austrian authorities allowed ski tourism — and the partying that goes with it — to continue for another nine days before fully quarantining the resort on March 13. Bars in Ischgl were closed on March 10.
Even after a bartender tested positive for the virus, the medical authority of Tyrol — where ski tourism is one of the biggest economic drivers. In a press release dated March 8 they said that there was “no reason to worry.”
Ischgl and its neighboring villages draw around 500,000 visitors each winter, with high-profile celebrities and politicians such as Paris Hilton, Naomi Campbell and Bill Clinton among them in previous years.
After a string of rebuttals that the town and bar were linked to the spread of the virus, Austrian authorities have since conceded that they were.
In a statement emailed to media, the provincial government denied it had dragged its feet, saying it acted in a timely and efficient manner. “With the measures taken, the authorities were able to contain the continuation of the chain of infections,” Bernhard Tilg, Tyrol’s provincial councilor responsible for health, care facilities, science, and research, said in the statement.
Health experts, however, say otherwise.