Austrian courts face fallout from ski resorts' coronavirus spread

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VIENNA (AFP) – The last time Sieglinde Schopf hugged Hannes, her husband of almost 50 years, was before he boarded a train to go skiing in Austria’s popular Alpine province of Tyrol last March.

A few weeks later, in April, the 72-year-old, infected with coronavirus, died alone, hooked up to a hospital bed.

“My entire world shattered into pieces,” says Ms Schopf, who had convinced her husband to go to Ischgl, which ended up becoming one of Europe’s coronavirus hot spots last year.

“I can’t forgive myself, because in the end, I sent him to his death.”

Now a year later, hers is one of 10 lawsuits filed by plaintiffs from Austria and Germany who seek compensation, alleging that Austrian authorities failed to respond quickly enough to coronavirus outbreaks in Ischgl and other resorts.

More than 6,000 people from 45 countries claim they got infected – the majority of them in Ischgl – where unwitting tourists continued to ski, drink and party, while the virus was spreading, according to Austrian consumer rights association VSV, which is collecting the complaints.

‘Broad spectrum’ of suits

Ms Schopf believes that her husband, a retired journalist and avid skier since his childhood, caught the virus during the panicked evacuation by bus, crammed with other tourists who were sneezing and coughing for three hours.

When the Austrian called her husband on March 13 to tell him that Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had just announced a quarantine for Ischgl, “they were still on the ski slopes”, she said.

The widow is now suing the Republic of Austria for €100,000 (S$160,800) over her husband’s death.

Others are seeking tens of thousands of euros in compensation over contracting the virus in the ski resorts.

The cases are expected to be heard from September with initial April trial dates postponed due to the latest Covid-19 lockdown, according to VSV.

Other lawsuits are also in the pipeline, including by plaintiffs from Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and Switzerland, VSV head Peter Kolba told AFP.

“It’s a very broad spectrum, from deaths to cases