Three British skiers infected with the coronavirus who have been hospitalised in Salzburg are suspected of being the latest victims of the more aggressive strain of the virus allegedly spreading from Italy.
The head doctor managing the quarantine of the three British citizens said that all the cases they were currently seeing were without exception coming from Italy, which he described as being “out of control.”
Dr Richard Greil, said: “The group had previously been staying in Italy and had returned there from holiday, deciding to continue their holiday at the Austrian hotel.
“It is the case at the moment that almost all of the infections we are finding are coming from Italy.”
He added that it is currently speculated that there is a stronger variant of the virus spreading in Italy, known as the so-called ‘L’ variant, but stressed that there was currently no concrete evidence for this and that it was only speculation.
He also told Central European News (CEN): “The fact is that it is completely out of control down there.”
Scientists believe that the S-type was probably the original strain that moved from animals to humans, and the second strain emerged shortly after that, with both versions now spreading.
The more aggressive appears to be the L-type which it is speculated is the type now prevalent in Italy.
His statement was echoed by Ravinder Kanda at Oxford Brookes University in the UK who said: “There do appear to be two different strains.”
She added: “[The L-type] might be more aggressive in transmitting itself, but we have no idea yet how these underlying genetic changes will relate to disease severity.”
And Erik Volz at Imperial College London said: “I think it’s a fact that there are two strains. It’s normal for viruses to undergo evolution when they are transmitted to a new host.”
In Austria, news of the infected British group in the heart of one of the countries busiest ski resorts in the middle of the winter ski season led to hasty attempt to stop panic and cancellations.
Local officials even originally said they were trying to get a charter flight to remove the rest of the British group, but they later backpedalled and said this was a misunderstanding.
Dr Richard Greil, who is head of the department at the Salzburg Landeskliniken hospital dealing with quarantined patients in the area, including the three British tourists, told CEN: “The first British man who was hospitalised, a 61-year-old, is the more seriously ill of the three but he is definitely not acute.
“The two other British men, aged 44 and 49, have only the very mildest of symptoms even though they are technically also infected. Under normal circumstances it would not be even necessary to move him to the hospital but in order to avoid a panic they have been taken to our facility.
“As you can imagine the other guests and staff would not be happy about having infected people there.”
He stressed, however, that under normal circumstances, even though they tested positive, the lack of any significant symptoms would mean that house quarantine would normally have been satisfactory.
He said the hospital had special filtration systems to provide air and the highest security standards to prevent the infection from spreading. and that this would put people’s minds at rest.
The seven other people in the group who have not been infected remain quarantined at the VIP Austrian ski resort in Saalbach.
All are reportedly being kept together in the same hotel and the official said they had decided it was not necessary to quarantine the other 35 hotel guests or the staff and hotel owner who had all tested negative for the disease so far.
They said this was because the group kept to themselves and ate in a separate room. They said that the sick man had stayed in his own room which had not been cleaned while he was there, also meaning that cleaning staff were not in contact with him.
Austrian officials said earlier that they had been trying to work out a way to fly the British group back home but that it was difficult because most airlines were not prepared to take them – even though they at the time showed no signs of the disease.
As the UK is not arranging special flights to remove infected tourists, the alternative would mean they had to wait the two-week quarantine period, which Austrian officials want to avoid in the heart of the tourist season.
The second option they said they were considering was to set up a quarantine area for suspected infected holidaymakers.
However, the statement by local council leader Bernhard Gratz that they were trying to arrange a charter flight to remove them from the tourist area or set up a quarantine zone was later rejected by Salzburg regional spokesman Franz Wieser, who said there would be no charter flights organised to remove sick people from the region. And there would also be no specialist quarantine circles set up.
The mayor of Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Alois Hasenauer, said they were keen to make sure there was “no hysteria and no panic”. He also said that there had been some cancellations since news of the infection at the resort was made public, but not many.
Meanwhile, the virus is spreading in Salzburg, according to officials, with victims including a German tourist from the Frankfurt area aged 37. He tested positive while visiting relatives in St Gilgen.
He has now been quarantined together with his family and one other person who was in contact with them, with a total of seven now under suspicion.
The mayor of St Gilgen, Otto Kloiber, said that the German had only recently arrived and had not had contact with anyone else in the village.
Saalbach-Hinterglemm is one of our top ski resorts in the Austrian Alps, which has been consistently expanded and modernised and now has 270 kilometres (167 miles) of slopes and more than 70 lifts.
It lies in the Glemmtal valley which is also where the hotel is that the British group is quarantined in, which is about 85 kilometres (53 miles) from Salzburg.
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