Coronavirus: Hundreds of quarantined Britons flee Verbier ski resort

The fleeing Britons were criticised on social media as selfish or foolish. Jacqueline Hamilton, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York, said: “Why the hell are people going on skiing holidays in the middle of a pandemic? And then to run away, like the selfish idiots they are.”

Owl recalls reporting that last March, Devon had emerged as the worst affected area for coronavirus outbreak as the government released the first breakdown by local authority. These cases were linked to individuals returning from skiing trips.

So have all these escapees fled to their second homes, maybe in Devon?

Charles Bremner, Paris | Greg Wilford 

Hundreds of British skiers who slipped out of the resort of Verbier and travelled home to escape a Swiss quarantine have been called selfish idiots.

Hoteliers alerted the local authorities on Sunday morning after half their British customers failed to pick up breakfast trays outside their doors, according to officials. Up to 200 skiers were said to have left.

A mandatory quarantine had been imposed on British arrivals after the announcement of a variant of the coronavirus in the UK.

Swiss officials blamed each other as anger grew over the disappearance of the skiers. The leaders of Valais canton said that the federal authorities had failed to notify them of the details of newly arrived Britons who were ordered to self-isolate under retroactive rules imposed on December 21. It applied to arrivals dating to December 14.

About 400 were traced to Verbier, a favourite Alpine resort for Britons. They were asked to stay in their chalets or hotel rooms, where meals were left at their door, but many opted for a quick getaway during a foggy night.

Jean-Marc Sandoz, spokesman for the Bagnes municipality, which includes Verbier, told ATS, the Swiss news agency: “It was when they saw the meal trays untouched that the hoteliers noticed that the customers had gone. Many of them stayed in quarantine for a day before they set off unnoticed under the cover of darkness.

“We can’t blame them. In most cases, quarantine was untenable. Imagine four people staying in a hotel room of 20 square metres.”

The fleeing Britons were criticised on social media as selfish or foolish. Jacqueline Hamilton, a professor of atmospheric chemistry at the University of York, said: “Why the hell are people going on skiing holidays in the middle of a pandemic? And then to run away, like the selfish idiots they are.”

Beatrice Bass, a spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats, wrote: “I still hope the selfish reckless culprits get caught and fined.”

Hugh Risebrow, chief executive of Latchmore Associates, a healthcare company, said: “Love skiing but unnecessary travel seems very risky (to self and others) under the circumstances.”

Adrian Faiers, a former NHS worker, said: “Perhaps Verbier is just another example of the overlap between the arrogant and the ignorant classes? ‘Regardless of the cost to others, we’ll decide how, when and if rules apply to us.’”

After reports on the higher transmission rate of the “British variant”, people in Switzerland became wary of UK visitors, the SonntagsZeitung newspaper reported on Sunday. “Anyone who speaks English is suspicious,” it said.

Many of the tourists appeared to have driven across the border to France in search of return flights because there were almost no flights between Switzerland and Britain at the weekend. French ski slopes are closed but resort hotels are open, with visitors free to practise Nordic skiing or snowshoe walking.

However, a tourism official said that the figure of a 200-strong British exodus was exaggerated. Simon Wiget, Verbier’s director of tourism, said most of those who left over the past three days had obeyed the rules and were at the end of their quarantine or had obtained permission to leave for Britain.

Verbier, long a favourite with the royal family, usually fills up with British tourists for the Christmas break. Britons make up about a fifth of the visitors there in the mid-winter. The resort had been hoping to save its season because, unlike surrounding nations, Switzerland remained open to winter sports visitors.

Many in Switzerland blamed Christophe Darbellay, head of the Valais cantonal government, who had defied advice and pushed to keep the resorts open. Many of the 10,000 Britons who arrived just before the announcement of the Swiss quarantine had travelled to the canton. Mr Darbellay said the Federal Office of Public Health “had made our work unnecessarily difficult” but the federal government rejected the claim, saying it had fully informed the cantons on its quarantine policy.

Brexiteer compares escape to flight of the Von Trapps

Andy Wigmore, a spokesman for Arron Banks, the Brexiteer who co-founded Leave.EU, has denied breaking the rules after he joined hundreds of British skiers in rushing home to escape the Swiss quarantine (Charlote Wace writes).

Mr Wigmore, 54, had boasted of his escape on social media, comparing it to The Sound of Music. He had been staying in a chalet at a ski resort in Wengen about an hour from Verbier when he heard about an imminent quarantine for UK arrivals.

He said that he and his family crossed the Swiss border last Tuesday afternoon with 20 minutes to spare. After taking local trains they reached Paris at midnight and caught the last Eurostar to London “just in time for Christmas”.

Mr Wigmore told The Times that he had received a tip-off from a local about the new rules. “We made a dash for it on the 22nd and managed to get over the border with about 20 minutes to go before they locked down Switzerland,” he said.

“The Wiggy von Trapps, like The Sound of Music, escaped over the border before they shut it down, except that we were escaping from Switzerland rather than to Switzerland”.

He had posted details of his escape on Instagram six days ago but yesterday made his page private after receiving abuse when people assumed he had broken quarantine restrictions.

“I haven’t broken any rules,” he said. “Absolutely not. That’s why I did it. Because if I had done it after that, I would have broken rules and the Swiss would be chasing me. But they’re not because I didn’t.”

Mr Wigmore is one of the “lab rats” for the Oxford vaccine programme and claimed it had made him “fully aware of the issues surrounding spread and what you should do”.

He suggested that the Verbier crowd who escaped had “probably thought it would be over by Christmas” and had not realised how seriously the rules would be taken.

Some of his friends have stayed in Switzerland but he said he was not aware of anyone who had broken the quarantine rules.

“If you’re in a nice chalet, great, but you can’t go skiing, you can’t go out, you can’t go shopping, can’t do anything. By the way, even if you go on your balcony, they will go for you. That’s how seriously the Swiss take it,” he said.