Swiss continue search for absconded British tourists

Skiing for one in Davos Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller

Swiss cantons are still trying to identify tourists from the UK and South Africa who are staying in their resorts or who fled to escape Covid quarantine. Canton Valais, home to many popular ski resorts such as Verbier and Zermatt, is struggling.

This content was published on December 30, 2020 - 14:03

At the weekend an estimated 200 British tourists crept out of Verbier during the night, with hotel owners only realising what was going on when they saw breakfast trays outside room doors. The tourists face fines of up to CHF10,000 ($11,280).

On December 20 Switzerland halted all flights from Britain and South Africa because a new variant of the coronavirus, thought to be more infectious, had been detected in those countries. The Swiss authorities ordered all arrivals since December 14 to be quarantined retroactively for ten days from the date of arrival.

Jean-Bernard Moix, director of Health Promotion Valais, said on Tuesday that 863 people from Britain and 13 from South Africa – 876 in total – had so far been identified on Valais territory.

The canton had been notified of 291 arrivals since December 14 via lists drawn up by the Federal Office of Public Health. The other 585 people had been identified by the canton, in particular by tourist offices and municipalities, he said.

“But the figure of 876 does not reflect the reality,” Moix said. “It’s missing all those people who didn’t report to the authorities or who weren’t automatically included in the lists during a check.” In Zermatt, for example, according to the data collected, there were 125 tourists from these two countries and in Verbier 114. “But we know there are more.”

What’s more, of the 876 people identified, 269 couldn’t be found. “We know that these people were in Valais, but their exact whereabouts are unknown,” he said.

So far, seven cases of the new British strain of the coronavirus have been detected in Switzerland, including one in Valais. “The patient mentioned has been identified and further investigations are underway,” Moix said.

Criminal offences?

Moix pointed out that tourists from Britain or South Africa would not be traced after completing their ten-day quarantine and could move around Switzerland freely.

“At the moment 351 of the 876 people who were initially identified are still in quarantine. The others have ended their isolation and some have returned home,” he said.

Valais took the tracing of British tourists very seriously from the beginning, Moix stressed. He said the Valais health department had sent its lists to the cantonal police, who carried out 150 checks. Twelve people had not stayed at the quarantine address given, he said, adding that they could be reported to the public prosecutor’s office if criminal offences were committed.

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