Shortly after the UK announced it was struggling to contain a new faster spreading variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the Swiss government announced a backdated 10-day quarantine requirement for UK arrivals. This affected tourists from the UK already in the winter resort of Verbier.
Some media, including the BBC, reported that 420 UK tourists, some who had arrived on or after the retrospective 14 December 2020 quarantine cut off date, were staying the Swiss resort. Hotels and chalets were contacted, and with the help of flight records, UK travellers were located and notified of the 10-day quarantine requirement. Then, reportedly, around 200 of these visitors from the UK staying in the resort broke quarantine and quietly left, some without checking out.
However, later reports claim the figures quoted were wrong and few visitors from the UK broke quarantine rules.
Simon Widget, the director of Verbier’s tourist office, told RTS that the numbers quoted were wrong and probably resulted from a miscommunication between a municipal spokesperson and a reporter.
In addition, the Swiss authorities allowed people subject to the retrospective quarantine a 24-hour window to return home to the UK without breaking any Swiss quarantine rules. According to Widget, it seems that the number leaving under this official rule were combined with those leaving outside the rules and some media presented all of them as quarantine breakers. He said that under no circumstances did 200 people sneak out of Verbier in breach of quarantine rules. This information is incorrect.
In any case, some are angered by the back-dated quarantine rules, which were announced a week after their start date. Others are upset by the cavalier attitude of people travelling unecessarily at a risky time. Many have also criticised Switzerland and Austria for keeping their ski resorts open while Italy, Germany and France have closed theirs.
The new UK variant of the virus has already been detected in Switzerland along with a separate fast-spreading variant identified in South Africa. On 24 December 2020, Switzerland’s government announced two cases of the new UK variant and one case of the South African variant had been detected in Switzerland. The new UK variant is not necessarily any more dangerous for those infected, according to UK research.
On Monday, a record 41,385 Covid cases and 401 deaths were reported in the UK, according to the UK government.