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30 Jan, 2021 17:43

‘Not a trivial offense’: Austrian police discover dozens of foreign revelers flouting lockdown to get to top ski resort

‘Not a trivial offense’: Austrian police discover dozens of foreign revelers flouting lockdown to get to top ski resort

Austria’s police have found almost 100 people from Europe and beyond, who found a way to circumvent the nation’s strict Covid-19 lockdown and relax at one of its top ski resorts despite a ban on foreign tourist activities.

A Friday police raid in the town of St. Anton am Arlberg – one of Austria’s most popular alpine ski resorts – has ended up with law enforcement officers discovering 96 foreign ski lovers in breach of the existing Covid-19 lockdown regulations. Now, the festive revelers could face a fine of up to €2,180 ($2,650) in addition to getting PCR tests and staying in quarantine for some time.

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The Alpine nation entered its third national lockdown on December 26 and the restrictive measures have recently been extended up to early February. Apart from closing all non-essential stores, museums and even schools, the government also tightened the rules of entering the country – apparently to discourage skiers.

All those coming to Austria are required to go into quarantine while tourists are simply banned from staying at any hotels at any ski resorts. Still, the eager ski lovers managed to find several loopholes in the protective wall the nation erected against the coronavirus.

The ski lifts at the resorts continue to work and ski instructor training courses are still allowed to be held for foreigners. Hotel accommodation is also allowed for business travelers. Ski lovers and revelers also apparently circumvented the regulations by pretending to be looking for work in the resort area.

St. Anton mayor, Helmut Mall, told the media earlier this week that his town has suddenly seen an unusual labor drift since around Christmas time. “Many young people come by train and are supposedly looking for work,” he told Die Presse, adding that they do that absolutely legally and the town authorities cannot ban them from coming.

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“That is exactly the problem: if the registration form is stamped by a company, we cannot refuse it,” Mall said, adding that many also register a second residence in the area. Some of them indeed have some prospects for a job, the mayor admits, adding, however, that “it cannot be that there are 15 to 20 new people every day.”

According to police, the list of those found in breach of the regulations included “Britons, Danes, Swedes, Romanians, Germans, Australians, Irish people and Poles” among others. The would-be job applicants were in fact holding parties and gatherings in addition to skiing, the local media said.

The mayor also believes that people on the internet share tips on how to get to ski resorts in circumvention of the existing regulations. “Some forums even encourage people to take the train from Zurich to St. Anton,” he said.

Now, the police have vowed to crack down on such activities. “Circumventing legal regulations will not be tolerated,” a local deputy district captain, Siegmund Geiger, said, adding that, with increased control measures in place, those who still want to try their luck will be met with “the full severity of law.”

“Violations of the law in this context are subject to severe penalties, since it is not a trivial offense,” he warned. According to police, in addition to breaching the lockdown rules, foreigners could be accused of violating immigration regulations and the law on registering an address.

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