Coronavirus: British tourist blamed for Lauberhorn ski race cancellation

By Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Bern

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image copyrightAFP
image captionThe Lauberhorn course is the longest downhill run in the world (file image)

A British tourist has been blamed for a spike in coronavirus cases that led officials to cancel Switzerland's famous Lauberhorn ski race.

The resort of Wengen, where the race is held, had recorded only 10 cases of the virus by mid-December.

But the number soon began to rise and many cases have since been linked to the new highly infectious variant of Covid-19 first identified in the UK.

At least 27 cases are connected to one British tourist, contact tracers say.

The tourist stayed in a hotel in Wengen over the holiday period.

The Lauberhorn course is the longest downhill run in the world, and racers can reach speeds of 160km/h (100 mph).

Officials desperately tried to save the race, shutting schools and offering to close off the resort to everyone but the competitors.

Swiss health officials initially agreed with the plan, but a further jump in cases at the start of this week prompted them to pull the emergency brake and cancel the event.

image copyrightAFP
image captionThe Lauberhorn track is 4,480m (14,700ft) long - and the race will now have to wait until 2022

Wengen is devastated. The Lauberhorn is one of the top competitions on the World Cup ski circuit. It is dearly loved by the Swiss, who have watched with delight as some of their own homegrown talent, such as Beat Feuz and Carlo Janka, have triumphed there.

Moreover, the long love affair between Switzerland and British winter tourists has frosted over to some extent.

media captionItaly's Foppolo ski resort was closed until 6 January and missed the all-important Christmas ski season

Now the high point of Switzerland's skiing calendar has been abruptly cancelled, and some Swiss blame the British.

Others say Switzerland only has itself to blame.

While neighbours France and Italy closed their resorts over the festive period, the Swiss government opted for a precarious balancing act. It kept its slopes open, but closed all bars and restaurants and limited ski lifts to two-thirds capacity.

Most Swiss resorts are quiet, with just a few locals enjoying the runs. But still some tourists arrived and, as Wengen's experience shows, just one infected guest is enough to cause major damage.

Instead of hosting a major ski race, Wengen officials are now racing to control the virus. Mass testing has already begun in the resort.

Switzerland's government has extended the closure of bars, restaurants, museums, and theatres until the end of February in a bid to control the new variant. It has also ordered non-essential shops to close and made working from home obligatory.

As for the Lauberhorn, Switzerland's oldest and fiercest skiing rival, Austria, will now host the postponed event. Nothing could have been calculated to upset the Swiss more.

The event was first moved to the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel, but an outbreak of coronavirus there has prompted another move, this time to Flachau, 100km to the east.

The cluster of cases in Jochberg near Kitzbühel broke out among a group of mainly British trainee ski instructors.

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