Coronavirus: criminal investigation launched in Austria

police investigation

France brings out tougher penalties for quarantine violators, including prison sentences; and a criminal investigation has been launched in a ski resort in Austria after texts emerged suggesting a cover up of cases

France has now reported over 22,300 Covid-19 cases, with around 3,280 recoveries and about 1,100 deaths – 240 of which occurred in the last 24 hours. On Sunday (22 March), an ER doctor in the Oise region become the first medical staff member whose life has been claimed by the virus, followed by another two physician deaths on Monday 23 March.

Following this, Health Minister Olivier Veran paid tribute to medical staff working tirelessly to save lives. "Medical professionals are making a huge sacrifice in our country today,” he said.

Since then, the French Government has taken it upon itself to enact stricter confinement rules to help curb further spread of the virus. Those who are detained in defiance of the order, which includes exceptions for transportation, shopping and solitary exercise, will also face tougher penalties, ranging from €135 to €3,700 and a six-month prison sentence for violations repeated, under the emergency health law passed by legislators.

In the UK, where there have now been 8,164 confirmed cases (135 recoveries and 422 deaths) and where a three-week lockdown was put into place on Monday (23 March) night, the government has also introduced fines for people not adhering to strict quarantine policies.

In Spain, where confirmed case numbers now sit at 42,058 (with 3,794 recoveries and 2,991 deaths), soldiers drafted in to help with the coronavirus response by disinfecting and running residential homes have found a number of elderly residents dead and abandoned in their beds.  

“During some of its visits, the army has seen some totally abandoned elderly people – even some who were dead in their beds,” the country’s Defence Minister Margarita Robles said. “We’re going to be very blunt and implacable over this and we have a very clear message: the full weight of the law will fall on those who don’t meet their obligations.”

Over in Austria, where there have been 5,448 confirmed cases, nine recoveries and 30 deaths, a criminal investigation has been launched at a ski resort in Ischgl in the Tyrolean Alps, after allegations surfaced that a coronavirus infection was covered up there. That infection has since been identified as a major centre of the European outbreak. It has been reported that hundreds of infections in Germany, Iceland, Norway and Denmark have been traced back to the resort.

The allegations suggest that a member of staff at the resort who was suspected to have the virus was not reported to health authorities, and that local politicians were aware of the situation as early as 9 March, but urged tourist businesses to hush it up. As such, the resort, which is believed to have spread the virus through drinking games and other party activities, was not closed until 13 March – a week after the Icelandic authorities warned their counterparts in Austria that they were seeing a spate of infections in people returning from ski holidays in the region.

"The allegations are so serious they have to be investigated immediately," a spokesman for the Tyrol regional government said.

Werner Kurz, the town’s Mayor, commented: “Essentially, it’s a disaster for Ischgl. We aren't talking about the economic consequences yet. We will overcome them, just as we have been able to overcome flooding and avalanches in the past.”

Globally, there have now been 425,493 total confirmed cases of Covid-19, 18,963 deaths and 109,191 recoveries.