British skiers filmed partying at epicentre of Austrian coronavirus outbreak


Horrifying footage shows British skiers unwittingly partying in a bar at the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Austria more than a month after the disease was first identified there.

The film, obtained by MailOnline, show holidaymakers being served shots in the Kitzloch bar, Ischgl, in late February, where a 36-year-old German barman is believed to have fallen ill with Covid-19 that same week.

Other exclusive videos show revellers dancing in nearby Schatzi bar in March, during the crucial few days when local politicians were said to have been told about a possible outbreak but hushed it up.

The footage comes after British tourist Darren Bland, 50, of Maresfield, East Sussex, infected his wife Sarah and their children after returning from  a party in Ischgl in mid January. Mr Bland, who has recovered, said you ‘couldn’t hope for a better home for a virus’ than the resort as waiters brought shots to hundreds of hot, sweaty skiers. 

He joined three friends there from January 15 to 19. Two of them later went home to Denmark and one to Minnesota in the United States. All were unwell. 

Iceland had declared Ischgl a risk area on March 5, placing it in the same category as Wuhan and Iran after returning tourists tested positive. But it wasn’t until March 13 that the Austrian government locked down the area. 

Holidaymakers who filmed the exclusive footage told MailOnline that many people in the resort were suffering from a dry cough, which they had put down to the altitude. There was no sense of alarm at the time. 

Ischgl, dubbed the ‘Ibiza of the Alps’, is now at the centre of a criminal investigation after hundreds of infections in Germany, Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Britain were traced there. 

Icaland issued its March 5 warning after several people returned from holiday at the resort testing positive. But Austrian health officials blamed the outbreak on a passenger on the plane.

On March 7, a German barman at the Kitzloch pub was identified as having coronavirus. He had reportedly fallen ill at the end of February, when British skiers were filmed partying at the bar where he worked.

The next day, health ministers in Norway announced that 491 of their 1198 cases had recently gone skiing in the region.

A leaked text message on March 9 appeared to show that local politicians knew about the outbreak, but told tourist businesses to cover it up. As MailOnline’s footage shows, the local pubs were busy throughout this period. 

Holidaymakers who filmed the exclusive footage, and later became unwell themselves, told MailOnline of their anger that they may have unknowingly contracted the deadly virus and spread it to others.

‘I organised a lads’ skiing trip for nine of us aged between 32 and 52,’ said Scott Phimister, 45. ‘A cough was going round and we chatted with other skiing groups about it.

‘We all decided it was just because of the dry air and the altitude. There were a lot of elderly people there on holiday and they were really suffering with it.

‘Later, most of us became unwell. If the authorities had acted responsibly, we might have avoided it.’

Mr Phimister’s videos, which show crowds of revellers drinking in the Schatzi bar, were taken between March 8 and March 11. He and his eight friends all came down with coronavirus symptoms after returning from Ischgl.

‘I had a fever for three days solid,’ the father-of-two from Paisley said. ‘I sweated so much that my T-shirt would have stuck to the window.

‘I self-isolated and am feeling better now, though I still have a niggling pain in my chest when I breathe heavily.

‘Now my wife is unwell and my 13-year-old daughter has come down with a sore throat.’

The other members of his party came down with similar symptoms, he added, with some more severely affected than others.

‘One lad was struggling to put his socks on, his breathing was so bad,’ Mr Phimister said. ‘Another friend’s mother is now in hospital and has been tested positive for coronavirus.’

Mr Phimister and his friends returned to Britain after the Austrian authorities finally took action and the resort was closed on March 13.

‘All the security staff and police in the airport in Austria were wearing masks and gloves when we left,’ he said. ‘But when we arrived at Edinburgh airport, there was not a mask to be seen.

‘The message had obviously not got through in Britain yet. None of the lads have any idea how many people we infected before we got the symptoms and self-isolated.’  

Ischgl has a reputation for its vibrant après ski nightlife. Artificial snow prolongs the season until the beginning of May, and drinking games are common in its many bars, continuing into the small hours.

It is believed that drinking games like ‘beer pong’, which requires participants to take turns spitting the same table tennis ball into a beer glass, may have accelerated the spread of the virus. 

German media has branded Ischgl ‘the breeding ground’ of coronavirus, while Norway believes almost half of the country’s cases were imported from there.

There have been at least 1,020 infections in the town, which has a population of about 1,500 people. By contrast, Vienna, the country’s capital, which has 2million inhabitants, has reported only 456 cases. 

Europe has become the new epicentre of the pandemic, with more than 100,000 people confirmed to have been infected across the Continent. Italy makes up more than half of cases. 

Tourists from Scandinavia, Germany and other parts of Austria were identified with the illness after returning from Ischgl in early March.

Local authorities have played down concerns, however. Werner Kurz, the mayor of Ischgl, told German newspaper Der Spiegel the shut down was ‘a catastrophe’ for the town, saying: ‘We implemented all regulations in a timely manner’.

Mr Bland said he passed it on to his family – with his youngest daughter off school for two weeks – before symptoms spread through his neighbourhood ahead of half term.

The Bland family have not been tested for coronavirus, but if their results came back positive it means the infection hit the UK a month earlier than thought.

Officially the first recorded case in the UK was on January 31, with the first transmission on February 28.

The virus has since spread across the four countries, racking up 465 deaths and 9,529 cases.

Mrs Bland, 49, has called for the family to be tested to try to help authorities understand how the bug has swept across Britain.

Ischgl, dubbed ‘Ibiza of the Alps’, faces tough questions over how revellers ended up transmitting the illness across Europe.

Austrian officials have launched a probe into whether the popular resort in Tyrol province purposefully chose not to report cases because it would hurt the tourist industry around the time of a key local election.

Leader of the opposition Dominik Oberhofer said questions need to be asked about the relationship between hoteliers and politicians who were in charge of overseeing the coronavirus response.

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