New coronavirus cluster in an Austrian village brings fears of a ‘second Ischgl’

Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) called the cluster in St. Wolfgang a "challenge." [EPA-EFE | Florian Wieser]

In the picturesque village of St. Wolfgang in Upper Austria, a new coronavirus cluster has been identified, with 62 new infections confirmed over recent days, mostly in workers in the tourism sector. This fuels fears of a “second Ischgl.” EURACTIV Germany reports.

In March, Ischgl became synonymous with fatal coronavirus crisis management. At that time, local authorities and restaurateurs reacted too late to the first warning signs. Ski lifts and hotels remained open, and guests were allowed to leave.

Authorities in Norway, Iceland and Germany stated that returning tourists had imported the virus from Ischgl. The public prosecutor’s office is investigating whether the local decision-makers have acted in a criminal manner.

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Now another cluster has been created in an Austrian tourist resort, this time in St. Wolfgang in Upper Austria. As of Tuesday morning, 62 active infections had been identified, with 38 tests still pending. Overall, 1,183 tests have been conducted.

The picture of the “second Ischgl” quickly went through the media. Most of the new infections were connected to hotels and bars, and 18 businesses overall were affected.

However, closure of businesses or of the entire the village is not planned, Hans Wieser, managing director of the Wolfgangssee Tourism Association, emphasized in the Ö1 Morgenjournal.

Mayor Franz Eisl thinks that his authorities were able to break the chains of infection in time by their “quick and consistent” measures, he wrote in a press release. His crisis team considers the cluster to be confined.

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Federal minister of home affairs, Karl Nehammer (ÖVP), also said that a quarantine of the entire village is unlikely, “because it was possible to identify the clusters swiftly and isolate the people”. Health minister Rudolf Anschober (Greens) called the cluster “a special challenge”.

The problem is that it is not known how many guests left the hotel infected and could take the virus home, the heads of the Upper Austrian crisis team said in the television programme Zeit im Bild. They expect “a certain distribution”. All guests who have left since July 15 should be contacted, the municipality promised. Since Monday, they have to leave their personal data before departing.

The opposition has criticised the government’s management of the situation. Christian Deutsch, business manager for the Social Democrats (SPÖ), called it “chaotic” and demanded uniform national norms for handling clusters.

Deutsch also took aim at the government’s approach to handling tourism-related clusters in general. In May, tourism minister Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP) announced a special screening programme in the Austrian tourism sector: Starting in July, 65,000 tests were to be conducted in hotels, restaurants, and cultural institutions. Deutsch now called this announcement “a big PR show” aimed at “making tourism in Austria seem especially safe.”

As of Wednesday (July 22), of these 65,000 tests, only 12,200 had been conducted according to the ministry’s own numbers. In a press statement, they emphasised that the 65,000 tests are not mandatory, but should be considered an opportunity for voluntary tests.

Edited by Samuel Stolton

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