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Hundreds of British holidaymakers escape from quarantine in luxury ski resort

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 27/12/2020 Alexandra Williams
a group of people standing on top of a snow covered mountain: Skiers wearing protective masks ski on a slope in the Valais ski area in Verbier, Switzerland - Shutterstock © Shutterstock Skiers wearing protective masks ski on a slope in the Valais ski area in Verbier, Switzerland - Shutterstock

Hundreds of British skiers forced to quarantine in the Swiss resort of Verbier have escaped from their quarters, as a local politician complained it was nearly impossible to control the coronavirus due to Europe's porous borders.

The holiday-makers were ordered to isolate for 10 days in their accommodation after the UK announced it had detected a mutation of the coronavirus.

But on Sunday, hoteliers informed officials that breakfast trays were left untouched outside guests’ rooms and calls were unanswered.

Of the 420 Britons identified by authorities as being in the luxury resort when the quarantine was hastily enforced, less than a dozen remained by Sunday.

From midnight on December 20, Switzerland banned flights from the UK and put in place a retroactive 10-day quarantine for Britons who had arrived since December 14.

On December 24, Swiss authorities then announced Britons were allowed to return home, even those in quarantine if special measures were taken which included informing cantonal authorities of their mode of transport.

Christophe Darbellay, the President of the Valais government, defended his office against accusations that too little was done to enforce the quarantine. He said: “Some guests left by car and are now in quarantine in the UK.

“There is a sense of personal responsibility. You can travel all over Europe without having to identify yourself. The border is a sieve.”

He criticised the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), saying passenger information was delivered too late. He said: “Passenger data was missing. Our work was made unnecessarily difficult.”

The FOPH denied this and said it had requested airline data for the 92 UK flights that had arrived since December 14 and gave the cantons data on Wednesday.

Simon Wiget, the Director of Verbier Tourist Office, told The Daily Telegraph that the rules were confusing.

He said: “It was a drip, drip of information that we had and we informed tourists about the rules as best we could.  

“We called all the hotels and tour operators and said that people who had travelled from the UK had to announce themselves to the Swiss authorities.

a person standing on top of a snow covered mountain: A tourist wearing a protective face mask walks past a Christmas tree in the Alpine resort of Verbier well known by British ski holiday makers - AFP © Provided by The Telegraph A tourist wearing a protective face mask walks past a Christmas tree in the Alpine resort of Verbier well known by British ski holiday makers - AFP

"We identified about 350 people but maybe there were 500 people if all the second home-owners and private chalet guests were included, it was impossible to be sure.

“Maybe a few people might have thought they were escaping but I think the vast majority would have believed they were acting within the law and responsibly.

“People are basically honest and they don’t break the law on purpose. It’s all very confusing, even for us. The new rules were so hastily put together and the situation is changing so rapidly, the tourists did what they could.

“More efficient communication from the state would help.”

Breaking the quarantine can result in a fine of up to 10,000 Swiss francs (£8,300).

Londoners Tom Waycott, 27, and Josh Pitchford, 28, spoke to The Daily Telegraph from Room 24 of the Hotel La Rotonde, where they have been quarantining since Monday.

Mr Waycott, who works for a Mayfair-based real estate family office, said: “It’s been quite an experience and a very bizarre Christmas. We arrived in Verbier on Friday December 18 for a five-day ski holiday but have been in quarantine since Monday.

“We have a balcony which has been a saviour because we are literally not allowed out of our room. The hotel has been brilliant and they put food outside the door for us.

a house covered in snow with a mountain in the background: File image of the Alpine resort of Verbier, well known by British ski holiday makers. - AFP © Provided by The Telegraph File image of the Alpine resort of Verbier, well known by British ski holiday makers. - AFP

“We have watched a lot of films. Luckily Josh and I are good mates and are not sick of the sight of each other just yet.”

Jean-Marc Sandoz, spokesman for the municipality of Bagnes, which includes Verbier, said he understood the guests’ frustration.

He said: “We understand their anger. Families with small children suddenly got stuck in a 20 square-metre hotel room. It was unbearable.”

Britons are Verbier’s most important foreign holiday-makers.

Mr Sandoz said he hoped the tourists did not feel poorly treated by authorities or stigmatised.

It is believed some of the escapees fled over the border to France. Ski lifts there are closed, due to the country’s coronavirus restrictions, but cross-country tracks are open and skiers are permitted to ski-tour, or hike up the mountain, and ski down.

Switzerland has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the pandemic, which has resulted in some of Europe’s fiercest infection rates during the second wave.


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