Austria investigates four over COVID-19 quarantine at Ischgl ski resort

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FILE PHOTO: A sign marks the end of the village in Ischgl
FILE PHOTO: A sign marks the end of the village in Ischgl

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian prosecutors said on Wednesday they have placed four people under investigation in connection with a quarantine and other restrictions imposed at the ski resort of Ischgl in March because of a massive coronavirus outbreak.

Thousands were infected at the resort that called itself the "Ibiza of the Alps", many of them foreign tourists who brought the virus home before the first case was detected there on March 7. Austria's public health agency believes the virus arrived there a month earlier, spreading in crowded bars.

Prosecutors in the provincial capital Innsbruck have been investigating whether anyone in Ischgl endangered others by, for example, failing to report a case before March 7. Instead, Wednesday's announcement appears to be in relation to the quarantine and other measures taken on March 13.

"In particular the implementation of decrees relating to traffic restrictions in Ischgl and the quarantine in the Paznaun Valley are being examined more closely. Four people are being investigated as suspects in relation to that," the prosecutors' office said in a statement, naming the valley Ischgl is in.

A spokesman for the prosecutors' office declined to elaborate on what the suspects were thought to have done.

The outbreak has caused fury in Germany, whose citizens appear to be the biggest group of foreign nationals infected.

A private consumer rights group has brought civil lawsuits against Austria, arguing the authorities should have acted sooner and more decisively to prevent the outbreak, which occurred before a national lockdown in mid-March.

Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced an immediate quarantine in Ischgl and its valley on March 13, but tourists were allowed out in a hastily arranged process that the consumer rights group described as "chaotic".

Officials in Tyrol, the province that includes Ischgl, say they acted appropriately given what was known at the time.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Giles Elgood)