More than 400 British tourists have “escaped’ from the exclusive Swiss ski resort of Verbier, after being ordered to quarantine there.
The visitors were ordered by Swiss authorities to isolate for 10 days in their accommodations after the U.K. announced it had detected a highly transmissible new mutation of the coronavirus.
The discovery of the mutation, which has swept through the U.K., causing COVID-19 infection rates to surge, led many countries, including Switzerland, to close their borders to British visitors.
From midnight on Dec. 20, Switzerland banned flights from the U.K., but also put in place a retroactive quarantine.
This meant that some 420 Britons who had already arrived in the village of Verbier—one of Europe’s premier ski resorts, and a popular destination with British royals—were told they would have to return immediately to their accommodations and avoid all contact with the outside world.
The well-heeled visitors had other ideas. By Sunday morning, hoteliers were informing officials that breakfast trays were being left untouched outside guests’ rooms, and calls to rooms were going unanswered, the Daily Telegraph reports.
The paper claims that of the 420 Britons identified by authorities as being in the luxury resort when the quarantine was hastily enforced, fewer than a dozen remained by Sunday. Laws implemented would mean breaking the quarantine could result in a fine of as much as 10,000 Swiss francs ($11,220).
Some guests may have left legally under a measure announced by Swiss authorities on Christmas Eve, which allowed Britons in quarantine to return home if they advised regional authorities of their mode of transport.
Some of the affected British tourists in Verbier left immediately, while others stuck it out for a short time before giving up and fleeing, according to a local newspaper.
“Many of them stayed in quarantine for a day before they set off unnoticed under the cover of darkness,” Jean-Marc Sandoz, a spokesman for the wider municipality, told the SonntagsZeitung.
He called the whole situation “the worst week our community has ever experienced.”
Sandoz told the ATS news agency: “It was when they saw the meal trays remained untouched that the hoteliers noticed that the customers had gone.”
He said he believed fewer than 10 people would still be in quarantine and the rest would either have left or their isolation time would have ended, adding: “We can’t blame them. In most cases, quarantine was untenable. Imagine four people staying in a hotel room of 20 square meters.”
Christophe Darbellay, the president of the local government, said: “There is a sense of personal responsibility. You can travel all over Europe without having to identify yourself. The border is a sieve.”
He criticized Switzerland’s Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), saying passenger information was delivered too late. He said: “Passenger data was missing. Our work was made unnecessarily difficult.”
The FOPH denied this and said it had requested airline data for the 92 U.K. flights that had arrived since Dec. 14 and gave the cantons the information on Wednesday.
However Simon Wiget, the director of Verbier Tourist Office, told the Daily Telegraph that the rules were confusing.
“We called all the hotels and tour operators and said that people who had traveled from the U.K. had to announce themselves to the Swiss authorities. We identified about 350 people but maybe there were 500 people if all the second-home owners and private chalet guests were included; it was impossible to be sure.
“Maybe a few people might have thought they were escaping but I think the vast majority would have believed they were acting within the law and responsibly. People are basically honest and they don’t break the law on purpose. It’s all very confusing, even for us. The new rules were so hastily put together and the situation is changing so rapidly, the tourists did what they could.”
Switzerland has come under heavy criticism for keeping ski resorts open during the pandemic, with critics attributing skyrocketing infection rates to the decision.