An Austrian consumer protection group has filed four civil lawsuits against the country’s government for failing to contain a coronavirus outbreak at an Alpine ski resort.
The cluster during the early phase of the pandemic has been blamed for thousands of infections around the world.
Peter Kolba, who heads the VSV consumer association, said the four cases — involving an Austrian and three Germans — will test the ground for a further 1,000 people who have asked to be represented by the group after falling ill with Covid-19.
The outbreak in Ischgl in February and March is considered one of the earliest “super-spreader” events on the continent.
Mr Kolba said his association has been contacted by 6,000 people from 45 countries.
About 80 per cent of those tested positive for Covid-19 after returning from Ischgl and at least 32 people from the resort cluster have died.
He accused authorities in the Paznaun Valley, where Ischgl is located, of being beholden to the interests of the local tourism industry.
Numerous infections allegedly occurred in cramped apres-ski bars where tourists often party the night away after a day on the slopes.
Mr Kolba also placed some of the blame on Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for declaring on March 13th that the valley would be placed under quarantine later that day, triggering the hasty departure of thousands of guests and seasonal workers.
“When it comes to managing the departure ... Chancellor Kurz is probably the one who caused the chaos,” Mr Kolba told reporters in Vienna.
“What he did was reveal that something would happen and created an impossible situation for the police on site.”
He said authorities had enough information by March 7th to warn new arrivals about the virus but failed to do so.
When the government imposed a regional quarantine on the Paznaun Valley on March 13, some 10,000 foreign tourists were told to leave Austria but officials only collected contact details for 2,600, he said.
Mr Kolba urged Mr Kurz to consider convening a roundtable of resort visitors and authorities in the western state to discuss how to compensate people without going to trial.
He indicated a simple apology will not suffice.
“If someone is found in Tyrol today who says specifically what mistakes were made, if they apologise without ifs and buts, and then say how many millions will be set aside to compensate the tourists instead of building new cable cars, then that’s a good first step,” Mr Kolba said.
“But that would surprise me.”
Alexander Klauser, a lawyer for the VSV, said one of the four cases was submitted on Tuesday on behalf of relatives of a man who died as a result of Covid-19.
Two others are still suffering effects from the infection in spring, while a fourth had only a mild illness.
Mr Kolba said the plaintiffs are seeking damages of up to €100,000 each from the Austrian government, which holds ultimate responsibility for enforcing health regulations.
India reported more than 83,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, showing some decline after reaching a record a week earlier.
The country has now confirmed more than 5.6 million cases.
The health ministry also reported 1,085 new fatalities, raising the death toll to 90,020.
India is expected to become the world’s worst-hit country within weeks, surpassing the United States, where nearly 6.9 million people have been infected by the virus.
But the past week has seen some improvement in India, with the numbers dropping after a record 97,894 new cases were reported on September 16th.
Balram Bhargava, director-general of the Indian Council for Medical Research, said on Tuesday that vaccines with at least 50 per cent efficacy will be approved for use against the coronavirus as that is the benchmark set by the World Health Organisation.
The US death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 on Tuesday, by far the highest in the world.
“It is completely unfathomable that we’ve reached this point,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher, eight months after the scourge first reached the world’s richest nation.
The number of dead is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama.
And it is still climbing. Deaths are running at close to 770 a day on average, and a widely cited model from the University of Washington predicts the US toll will double to 400,000 by the end of the year as schools and colleges reopen and cold weather sets in.
A vaccine is unlikely to become widely available until 2021.
“The idea of 200,000 deaths is really very sobering, in some respects stunning,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert, said on CNN.
The bleak milestone was reported by Johns Hopkins, based on figures supplied by state health authorities. But the real toll is thought to be much higher, in part because many Covid-19 deaths were probably ascribed to other causes, especially early on, before widespread testing.
Mr Trump said it was “a shame” the US reached that number but argued the toll could have been much worse.
He added that the United States is now “doing well” and “the stock market is up”.
He also gave his often-repeated broadside that China was at fault for the pandemic.
On Twitter, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said, “It didn’t have to be this bad.”
“It’s a staggering number that’s hard to wrap your head around,” he said. “There’s a devastating human toll to this pandemic — and we can’t forget that.”
The US has less than 5 per cent of the globe’s population but more than 20 per cent of the reported deaths.
Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 31 million people and is closing in fast on 1 million deaths, with nearly 967,000 lives lost, by Johns Hopkins’ count, though the real numbers are believed to be higher because of gaps in testing and reporting. – AP/Reuters