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Hundreds of Britons ‘flee Swiss ski resort’ after being told to quarantine

Written by on 28 December 2020

Hundreds of British tourists fled the upmarket ski resort of Verbier in Switzerland after being told they must quarantine if they wanted to stay, according to reports.

More than 400 UK holidaymakers were thought to be in the area as countries scrambled to contain the new, more transmissible, coronavirus variant.

Some reports say about half of those are understood to have left the Swiss resort, rather than face 10 days shut in hotel rooms.

Image:
A COVID ‘angel’ who reminds skiers of the coronavirus safety guidance in Verbier

Health minister Alain Berset said the exodus of tourists was “obviously a problem” – and he did not know where they went but assumed it was home.

“There was an order to quarantine that has not been respected,” he said.

Swiss authorities had ruled that anyone who arrived in the country from Britain since 14 December had to stay in quarantine for 10 days.

On 20 December, Switzerland announced an entry ban for all travellers from the UK, and suspended all flights to and from the UK, after the new coronavirus variant was detected in southeast England.

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Then on 23 December, the Swiss government brought in an exemption, allowing flights to and from the UK from Christmas Eve to enable residents of the UK and Switzerland to return for the festive period.

Mr Berset said: “One shouldn’t underestimate what an impossible situation it was… We had to decide within hours what to do. Things don’t work perfectly in such a situation… problems surface is a reality we have to live with.”

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Tourism director denies British tourists broke rules

Two cases of the new variant have been detected in Switzerland and one in neighbouring Liechtenstein.

And two COVID-19 cases of the new South African-linked variant have also been discovered. Both variants are believed to be far more easily passed between people than the original.

Speaking about the tourists leaving, spokesman for the wider Bagnes municipality Jean-Marc Sandoz told the SonntagsZeitung newspaper: “Many of them stayed in quarantine for a day before they set off unnoticed under the cover of darkness.”

He called the whole situation “the worst week our community has ever experienced”.

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How contagious is the new variant?

And referring to the hotel staff, Mr Sandoz told the ATS news agency: “It was when they saw the meal trays remained untouched that the hoteliers noticed that the customers had gone.”

“We can’t blame them. In most cases, quarantine was untenable. Imagine four people staying in a hotel room of 20 square metres,” Mr Sandoz added.

But director of Verbier Tourism, Simon Wiget, told Sky News “it was not a night escape” and that people had simply used “the possibility” of following the exemption to be able to return to Britain.

Local restaurant owner Tom Etching said: “Some people chose not to spend their holiday in a small hotel room and left, but I don’t think there was any sort of covert escape going on.”