‘You’d laugh if it wasn’t so tragic’: Swiss authorities slammed after Britons escape coronavirus quarantine

Authorities in Switzerland have been heavily criticised after hundreds of Britons escaped quarantine in the ski resort of Verbier over the weekend.

‘You’d laugh if it wasn’t so tragic’: Swiss authorities slammed after Britons escape coronavirus quarantine
A poster informing people that masks are required in the village of Verbier. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Between 200 and 300 Britons are estimated to have left quarantine early in Switzerland over the weekend, with the majority suspected to have headed to France or back to the United Kingdom.

Authorities are however unsure of their exact whereabouts, with flights between Switzerland and the UK heavily restricted due to the new mutation of the virus.   

The quarantine was imposed retrospectively on December 20th, requiring all those who arrived after December 14th to quarantine for ten days.

Christophe Darbellay, head of government in the canton of Valais, said Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health “had made our work unnecessarily difficult” in the way they imposed the quarantine.

Darbellay said the canton had pulled out all the stops to ensure that requirements were complied with, but that they received valuable information about the quarantine too late from the government.

READ: Hundreds of British ski tourists escape quarantine in Valais

Specifically, the cantons said the federal government took too long to provide them with information about the amount – and the location – of Brits who had flown into Switzerland.

“You'd have to laugh if it weren't tragic,” said the Greens National Councillor and trade unionist Katharina Prelicz-Huber.

She called on the government to make more staff available to carry out controls to see if people were adhering to the rules.

“Precisely because the mutated virus can spread, the federal government and the cantons must finally set up a powerful organisation in such cases.”

“More staff are needed who can be called upon if necessary: Personal home visits are more effective than the threat of draconian fines.”

‘The cantons must enforce quarantine’

Switzerland’s federal government disagrees, saying the blame for the missing Brits is with Valais authorities.

“It is up to the cantons to enforce the quarantine,” spokesman Grégoire Gogniat told 20 Minutes.

Gogniat disagreed that it took too long in providing information, saying the passenger info was provided on the same day the quarantine came into effect.  

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WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

Most new cases of monkeypox are currently detected in Western Europe. The World Health Organisation says this is no reason to cancel more than 800 festivals scheduled to take place on the continent this summer.

WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk

The World Health Organization said Friday that European summer festivals should not be cancelled due to the monkeypox outbreak but should instead manage the risk of amplifying the virus.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from 48 countries in total this year.

“We have all the summer festivals, concerts and many other events just starting in the northern hemisphere,” Amaia Artazcoz, the WHO’s mass gatherings technical officer, told a webinar entitled “Monkeypox outbreak and mass gatherings: Protecting yourself at festivals and parties”.

The events “may represent a conducive environment for transmission”, she said.

“These gatherings have really close proximity and usually for a prolonged period of time, and also a lot of frequent interactions among people,” Artazcoz explained.

“Nevertheless… we are not recommending postponing or cancelling any of the events in the areas where monkeypox cases have been identified.”

Sarah Tyler, the senior communications consultant on health emergencies at WHO Europe, said there were going to be more than 800 festivals in the region, bringing together hundreds of thousands of people from different countries.

“Most attendees are highly mobile and sexually active and a number of them will have intimate skin-to-skin contact at or around these events,” she said.

“Some may also have multiple sexual contacts, including new or anonymous partners. Without action, we risk seeing a surge in monkeypox cases in Europe this summer.”

Risk awareness

The UN health agency recommends that countries identify events most likely to be associated with the risk of monkeypox transmission.

The WHO urged festival organisers to raise awareness through effective communication, detect cases early, stop transmission and protect people at risk.

The outbreak in newly-affected countries is primarily among men who have sex with men, and who have reported recent sex with new or multiple partners, according to the WHO.

People with symptoms are advised to avoid attending gatherings, while people in communities among whom monkeypox has been found to occur more frequently than in the general population should exercise particular caution, it says.

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Meg Doherty, from the global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes at WHO, said: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.

“Stigmatising never helps in a disease outbreak,” she added.

“This is not a gay disease. However, we want people to be aware of what the risks are.”