Hotels in the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl could face legal action over their knowledge of the Covid-19 outbreak by tourists who caught the virus.
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 they knew there was an infection problem in March 2020.
Ischgl was believed to be Europe's Covid-19 epicentre.
The Consumer Protection Association (VSV) is bringing legal action on behalf of the families of those who died of Covid-19 after contracting it at the resort.
In a statement, the VSV says tourists, in many cases, had contacted hotels before travelling to the resort to inquire about the situation.
It is now preparing a civil case, to be heard in June, against hotels who allegedly advised it was safe.
“An evaluation of the complaints from tourists about multi-organ failure in Ischgl has shown that tourists accuse more than 50 hotels in and around Ischgl of simply lying to them when making inquiries before the start of their vacation,” Peter Kolba, chairman of VSV, said.
“From March 5, 2020, it was clear to the crisis management teams at state, district and municipal level that various groups of Icelandic holidaymakers had been infected in Ischgl the week before and had tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival home.
“The state press service claimed in a press release on March 5, 2020 that the Icelanders were only infected on the plane on the return flight. Against our better knowledge, that was flat misinformation.
“That will have to be clarified in the official liability lawsuits.”
Mr Kolba says a defence statement in the cases has accused the tourists of not having made preventive inquiries.
“Many asked the hotel or the Paznaun Tourist Association (TVB) before arrival whether there were any problems with the new virus on site. In many cases this was flatly denied,” he said.
“If they reported on request that there was no problem with Covid-19 in Ischgl, then they had seriously violated contractual protection and due diligence obligations and — alongside the state — are liable for damages. In these cases, we will sue these hoteliers or the TVP in the official liability lawsuits as collaborators in Vienna.”
Of the 6,000 who allegedly contracted 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.
Last year Austrian prosecutors closed an 18-month criminal investigation into the outbreak in Ischgl.
Epidemiologists found hundreds of Germany's earliest infections could be traced back to Ischgl. The resort was also accused of being the sole source of Iceland's first wave of infections, half of Norway's, a third of Denmark's, and one sixth of Sweden's.