VIENNA (Reuters) - Lockdowns at two of Austria’s top ski resorts in the province of Tyrol are being extended for two more weeks as tests have confirmed the coronavirus is still widespread there, the provincial government said on Friday.
The resort town of St Anton am Arlberg and the valley that includes another resort, Ischgl, have been under quarantine since March 13 after it became clear that they were hotspots of infection. The virus thrived at several ski resorts, where crowded apres-ski bars gave it a breeding ground.
Ischgl and the surrounding valley are the source of Austria’s biggest cluster of infections, accounting for more than 600 cases in the country and hundreds more abroad. The local authorities have been accused of responding too slowly to that outbreak, having first closed a bar there on March 9.
The province of Tyrol in which they lie, the first and hardest-hit province in Austria, recently carried out a testing offensive in the quarantined areas and at a third resort under lockdown, Soelden.
“Due to the continued existence of infection chains, on the advice of medical experts, we have no choice but to extend the quarantines for the Paznaun Valley and St Anton for a further two weeks until April 26,” Tyrol’s Governor Guenther Platter said in a statement issued by his provincial government.
Apart from a small number of towns under quarantine, the rest of Austria plans to start reopening some shops next week as infections have eased.
Although the quarantines at St Anton and Ischgl were announced with immediate effect on March 13, foreign tourists were then allowed to leave the resorts, further spreading infections and fuelling accusations of mismanagement.
Many foreign seasonal workers stayed to complete a two-week quarantine and have since been transported home in a more orderly manner.
In recent days close to 3,000 tests have been carried out at the three resorts and roughly two-thirds of those tests have been assessed so far, the statement said. That is a significant proportion of the towns’ combined population of roughly 8,100.
“The picture we have is quite clear: In roughly 19% (of those tests) in Ischgl and roughly 13% in St Anton the presence of elements of the coronavirus could be proved,” the statement said. A study published earlier on Friday found that just 0.33% of Austria’s population as a whole is infected.
“From a medical point of view it would therefore be irresponsible to open these areas from next week,” it added, quoting Guenter Weiss, Innsbruck University Clinic’s director of internal medicine.
A decision on Soelden, the biggest of the three towns and where roughly 40% of the test results are not yet available, is due this weekend.
Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson