British Visitor Was Major Source of Covid-19 in Wengen as Lauberhorn Race Cancelled
11th January 2021
Last modified on January 13th, 2021
One of the most anticipated World Cup alpine racing meetings of the ski season has been called off. There’s been an increase of cases of coronavirus in the Swiss resort many traced back to a single British visitor with the mutated strain of the virus. UPDATED
Swiss health officials say many cases were spread by one British tourist.
The ski village of Wengen had recorded no cases of the virus until October, and only ten until mid-December.
Then cases rose sharply and they were identified as the new highly infectious variant first detected in the UK.
Contact tracers found that 27 of the cases alone could be linked to one British tourist who recently stayed in a hotel in the resort.
The race was due to take place this weekend and with just days to go, the Swiss canton of Bern decided to prohibit racing following a new analysis of the current Covid-19 situation in Wengen.
The Swiss Ski Federation announced the news on its website earlier this week.
“The decision hurts enormously – all the more because the organising committee has done excellent preparatory work,” says Bernhard Aregger, CEO of Swiss-Ski.
“The cancellation of one of the most prestigious race weekends in the World Cup calendar makes the heart of every ski fan bleed. Nevertheless, it is our job to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Even with difficult decisions like this, health is in the foreground.”
The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes says the relationship between Switzerland and British winter tourists has recently “frosted over to some extent”.
It follows an exodus from Verbier after UK guests were ordered into quarantine
They fled other ski resorts too, including Wengen.
The men’s downhill on the Lauberhorn is one of the classics in the calendar.
The Organising Committee of the Lauberhorn Races has said it deeply regrets this decision, but understands it.
“For over 90 years, the organization here in Wengen has striven to hold competitions that are as safe as possible for the participating athletes, the teams, all guests present, as well as the local population,” it says.
“A safe execution is not possible under the current pandemic situation according to the assessment of the experts.”
The costs are protected by the event’s insurance policy, however it will be a significant blow to the local businesses in the resort.
The International Ski Federation has announced that the 91st International Lauberhorn races are being swiftly rescheduled to run alongside another iconic set of races in Kitzbühel in Austria.
The good news is that it means a feast of action in the Austrian resort instead, from 16th to 24th January.
There are now two men’s slalom races this Saturday and Sunday*, a men’s Super G on 24th and two men’s downhills, including the infamous Hahnenkamm, on 22nd and 23rd January.
*UPDATE 13 Jan – the two men’s slalom races on 16th and 17th January have now been moved to Flachau.
Swiss TV says the coronavirus conditions in Wengen worsened in recent days and that the mutated, more contagious virus variant allegedly brought in by UK tourists has been identified.
Race personnel have tested positive and the concern was that they would have contact with racers and the teams with this potentially jeopardising the remainder of the season.
“The virus has spread very quickly in Wengen since mid-December. In just four weeks, over 60 cases were reported within the Wengen population, after almost no cases before,” reads a statement from the Bern Canton.
“The people of Wengen are asked to stay at home whenever possible and to avoid contacts outside their own household,” it added.
On Monday some 6,523 new cases of coronavirus were reported across Switzerland in the past 72-hours.
The canton of Bern reported 164 new cases in the past 24 hours.
The cantonal authorities called the race off after analysing the results of tests around the precise area where the race was due to take place.
The number of people infected by the British or South African strains has risen from 28 last week to 88 on Monday.
In a further 29 cases, unknown mutations of the virus were detected.