Lawyers are setting up a crowdfunding site to help fund a class action into a Covid-19 outbreak at the popular Austrian Alpine ski resort of Ischgl.
Thousands of people, from 45 countries, claim they caught Covid-19 at the resort and are accusing Austrian authorities of failing to shut the resort down once it was realised there was an infection issue in March 2020.
The first civil lawsuit started in Vienna in September on behalf of the family of 72-year-old Hannes Schopf, who died after contracting the virus in Ischgl.
The case is the first of 40 lawsuits filed by claimants from Austria and Germany, who are accusing the authorities of not responding quickly enough to Covid-19 outbreaks in Ischgl and other resorts in the province of Tyrol.
The Consumer Protection Association (VSV) will shortly be bringing more cases covering people who were admitted to hospital suffering from long Covid-19 and from the families of those who died.
Peter Kolba, chairman of the VSV, is urging the Austrian government to hold a meeting with the victims' families.
"The state institutions are trying to visibly delay or prevent clarification of the multi-organ failure of the authorities in Ischgl in March 2020. But they will not succeed," he said.
"We will continue to bring individual liability actions before the courts and will organise a class action for injured parties without legal protection insurance.
"We are about to launch a crowdfunding campaign to create the necessary financial resources to accompany this collection campaign for years and bring it to a successful conclusion."
Of the 6,000 people who claim to have contracted the coronavirus in Ischgl and the surrounding area, 32 people have died and 5 per cent still suffer from symptoms of long Covid, including headaches, sleep disturbance and shortness of breath, the VSV said.
The Federal Attorney's office, which represents the state, denied it had acted too slowly or that any more could have been done at the time.
Five people, including four local officials, were placed under investigation by the public prosecutor's office in Innsbruck in relation to the outbreak.
The file has been sent to the Justice Ministry.
Alexander Klauser, a lawyer acting for the Schopf family and the VSV, said the official shortcomings that allowed Ischgl and the surrounding area to become a virus hotspot were manifold.
He said a report in October 2020 by an independent commission of experts found that local officials had “reacted too late” and made “serious miscalculations” when alerted by Iceland on March 5 that several of its citizens had tested positive on returning home from Ischgl.
Local officials “had at least 48 hours to react” after the warning, Mr Klauser said.
He accused the authorities of doing “too little, too late” when one restaurant worker tested positive for the virus, when contact tracing was insufficient and the implementation of restrictions on tourist activity over subsequent days was merely “halting", he said.