Indepent report on COVID hotspot Ischgl slams Austrian government’s handling

Ischgl was one of the first known coronavirus hotspots in Europe. [EPA-EFE | STR Austria Out]

The Austrian ski resort of Ischgl became the European epicentre of coronavirus infections in March. The local government there has denied any responsibility, but a new independent commission report begs to differ. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The community of Ischgl in the Austrian Tyrol was for a long time mainly known as a beautiful ski resort, including a lively après-ski party scene.

In March, however, it gained notoriety as a coronavirus hotspot from which tourists carried the virus to their home countries. This was especially true for Iceland, Norway and Germany.

Several sides have accused the Tyrolean state government of having closed the hotels and ski lifts too late, while the local authorities claimed they had done the right thing at the right time. However, according to a new report by an independent commission, their policy came too late and was uncoordinated.

The commission is headed by Ronald Rohrer, former vice president of the Austrian Supreme Court. He and his team spent five months going through internal files and interviewing more than 50 people. The result: a lot went wrong with crisis management.

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Acted too late

The operation of the ski lifts was stopped one day too late, the report said. When measures were taken, they were poorly communicated. Guests left the resort in panic, with the risk of spreading the virus to other regions and countries.

Instead, the departure should have been “staggered and controlled,” under the supervision of the authorities, but an evacuation plan was completely lacking.

The report acknowledges that decision-makers operated “often under great time pressure, in an unprecedented crisis situation, and managed a huge workload.” However, this led to “serious misjudgments.”

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Criticism of the Austrian Government

There had also been omissions on a higher level, in the federal government.

When Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP, just like the Tyrolean governor) imposed a quarantine on the adjacent areas of Paznauntal and St. Anton, he did so “surprisingly and without any consideration of the necessary substantial preparation.”

“There was a lack of communication and involvement of the solely responsible district administration of Landeck,” the report stated. This made “controlled departure management” more difficult.

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) should have published the new pandemic plan earlier. As it was, the Tyrolean authorities had to work with the outdated epidemic law from 1950, which was never tested for practicability for today’s tourist areas.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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