By Leonhard Foeger
VIENNA (Reuters) -A Vienna court on Friday heard the first of more than a dozen lawsuits being brought against Austria over an outbreak of the coronavirus at the ski resort of Ischgl in early 2020, where COVID-19 found a breeding ground in crowded bars.
The outbreak at Ischgl, which branded itself "the Ibiza of the Alps", was Austria's biggest and helped spread the virus across Europe. Hundreds of Austrians were infected and thousands of foreign tourists, particularly in Germany, say they were too.
Ischgl's first case was detected on March 7, days after Iceland announced that tourists had been infected there and 11 days after Austria's first infections were confirmed. Austria's public health agency has since said it believes the virus arrived in Ischgl far earlier, on Feb. 5.
Friday's case is being brought by the widow and son of a 72-year-old man who died of COVID-19 after a holiday there from March 6 to March 13. They are seeking roughly 100,000 euros ($118,000) in damages.
The private Consumer Protection Association (VSV), which helped bring this case and 14 others, accuses Austria of "multiple organ failure" since it blames the state at various levels, from the federal government to local authorities.
The authorities in the province of Tyrol say they responded appropriately given what was known at the time. Lawyers for Austria did not comment to reporters at the courthouse.
The plaintiffs say the authorities reacted too slowly and then inappropriately, including when Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced an immediate quarantine that prompted a chaotic exodus.
"What happened was a hurried, chaotic departure of thousands ... of holidaymakers, some of whom were still on the slopes when they heard of the chancellor's announcement," the plaintiffs' lawyer Alexander Klauser told reporters.
"People ran to their cars in ski boots."
($1 = 0.8488 euros)
(Writing by Maria Sheahan and Francois MurphyEditing by Gareth Jones)