Police in Switzerland are investigating a group of British tourists amid allegations they fled a ski resort after being told they were to enter a Covid quarantine period.
The 12 unaccounted-for people were among hundreds of Britons on holiday in the luxury Alpine resort of Verbier when the Swiss government announced a retroactive 10-day quarantine.
The move was an attempt to contain the new coronavirus variant after authorities realised that families from the variant’s origin areas, Britain and South Africa, had flown into Switzerland and stayed at the popular resort.
On 21 December, the Swiss government ordered anyone who had arrived from the two nations since 14 December to enter a 10-day lockdown – but it was quickly reported that many had left Verbier, which sits in the canton of Valais, through the night to avoid being hauled up in their hotels.
The order specifically told guests they must stay indoors, away from other people, which Valais sent 220 police officers to enforce by performing random checks on selected quarantined tourists.
“Of the 150 people who were checked at the holiday destinations, 138 guests consistently adhered to the quarantine,” a Valais police spokesperson said on Wednesday. “Investigations are currently under way in 12 cases where the tourists had already left the canton.”
The exact number of Britons on holiday in Valais at the time the quarantine was enforced is still unknown.
So far, 863 people from the UK and 13 from South Africa have been identified but 269 of these have yet to be located. Of the 876 people, 15 people were granted an exemption from quarantine on special grounds, 351 are still in quarantine, others have ended their isolation and some have returned home, according to reports in the Mirror.
What is known for certain is that far more than 12 people hurriedly left Switzerland to avoid quarantine, with the country’s health minister, Alain Berset, calling the exodus an “impossible situation”.
One British national known to have fled a Swiss ski resort when the quarantine was imposed is Leave.EU spokesman Andy Wigmore – though he was in Wengen, not Verbier.
Speaking to The Independent on Monday night, Mr Wigmore said a “Swiss friend” advised the family to “make a run for it before the quarantine became official and at that point we decided to get across the Swiss border into France using the train network”. He said the group then went to Paris and got “the Eurostar to London”.
“I did nothing wrong,” he added. “Switzerland was open when we went and there were no restrictions on travelling there, we all had tests before departure and on our return.”
At least seven people in Switzerland have now been detected with the new Covid variant, five with the British version and two with a version detected in South Africa, Reuters said.
It is not yet clear what punishment British tourists will face when found by the Swiss police, though the country’s laws around “dangerous diseases” seem to suggest quarantine violators could be issued with fines as big as 10,000 francs (£8,332).
The probe comes after the Swiss government announced on Wednesday it had decided against tighter restrictions, despite these faster-spreading variants having entered the country.
“The Federal Council has conducted a detailed analysis of the current epidemiological situation. This remains worrying due to the high level of infection and the appearance of two new virus variants in Switzerland,” the government said in a statement.
“However, the Federal Council has come to the conclusion that the [“lockdown light”] measures taken on 18 December … are appropriate and do not need to be tightened.”
Switzerland has recorded more than 440,000 cases of Covid, which accounts for more than 5 per cent of the population, and nearly 7,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Experts said on Tuesday the country’s current death rate was among the highest in the world.