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How an Austrian ski resort helped coronavirus spread across Europe

The 56-year-old Dane, who spoke to CNN from self-quarantine at his home 50 miles from Copenhagen last week, said that his time in Kitzloch in the Austrian province of Tyrol was the way “after-ski” is supposed to be. “Lots of people, lots of drinks, and nice waiters happy to serve you more.”

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 — reiterated in a press release on March 8 that there was “no reason to worry.” CNN has reached out to Franz Katzgraber, the director of Tyrol’s medical authority, for further comment and not received a response.
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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 CNN, 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.

Raising alarm bells

The assistant to the director of health at the Icelandic health directorate told CNN that the country’s chief epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason informed Austrian authorities on March 4 that several Icelandic tourists were infected with the virus while in Ischgl. Gudnason used Europe’s official Early Warning and Response System, the directorate confirmed in an email.

On March 5, the day after Iceland notified Austria that Icelandic tourists had contracted Covid-19, Reykjavik added Ischgl to its list of risk zones for Covid-19 transmission, putting the risk of infection in the village on par with China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

Jan Pravsgaard Christensen, a professor of immunology of infectious diseases, at the University of Copenhagen, told CNN that Iceland’s listing should have immediately raised alarm bells.

“Considering that it is a place where people are in close contact in bars, restaurants, and so on, once they know of … people infected in the same area, they should have initiated a quarantine very quickly,” he said.

However, regional authorities in Tyrol downplayed the risk. In a first official reaction to Iceland’s listing, Katzgraber said in a March 5 press release that it was “unlikely” there was contagion in Tyrol.

Based on a statement by a single traveler who said that a sick tourist who had visited Italy shared the same flight home to Iceland, Katzgraber said in the same press release that the group of Icelandic tourists likely contracted the virus after they left Austria, giving no evidence.

Oral beer pong and sharing whistles

On March 7 — three days after Iceland’s warning — a 36-year-old bartender at Kitzloch tested positive. Twenty-two of the bartender’s contacts were quarantined, 15 of whom have since tested positive for Covid-19, the provincial government confirmed in press releases.

The outbreak had spread far beyond the Tyrol.

The most recent available Danish government figures show that out of more than 1,400 cases in Denmark, 298 contracted the virus in Austria. In comparison, only 61 cases are linked to travel to Italy, so far the hardest-hit country in Europe.
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As of March 20, Icelandic authorities are aware of eight people who got infected with coronavirus in Ischgl specifically, the health authority told CNN.

“At first, we didn’t understand how this many cases could have happened,” Christensen, who had been briefed by experts working on Iceland’s response to the pandemic, said. But a clearer picture emerged when officials worked out what was going on in some of Ischgl’s tightly packed bars and clubs.

“We realized that they exchanged saliva because they were playing beer pong,” using their mouths, he said, although he did not single out any specific bars where the game took place. The game involved spitting ping pong balls out of their mouths into beer glasses, and those balls were then reused by other people.

Lerfeldt reported that Kitzloch bartenders, including the 36-year-old who later tested positive for coronavirus, blew on a brass whistle to get people to move out of their way as they took shots to customers. Several…

Source Website How an Austrian ski resort helped coronavirus spread across Europe

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