Lauberhorn ski classic cancelled as UK tourist spreads virus variant

FILE PHOTO: Ski World Cup Wengen - Men's Alpine Combined - Downhill
·2 min read

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) - This weekend's Lauberhorn, the longest FIS World Cup downhill ski race, was cancelled after Swiss officials raised fears that an especially infectious coronavirus variant was spreading in the town of Wengen after being brought in by a British tourist.

In addition to Saturday's 4.3 km (2.7 mile) men's downhill race above the town, other planned downhill and slalom events were also called off after COVID-19 testing in Wengen showed 60 infections, up from virtually none before mid-December.

"The aim was to prevent the virus from circulating in an uncontrolled way during the Lauberhorn races and thus endangering the participating athletes and officials as well as the local population and thus the further winter ski season in Wengen," race organisers said.

Traditionally, crowds of 35,000 attend the televised Lauberhorn race, which Switzerland uses to highlight breathtaking vistas that include the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau mountains that rise to 4,100 metres.

Linda Nartey, the cantonal doctor in Bern, told a media conference on Tuesday that contact tracers were working "seven days a week, day and night" to map the Wengen spread, but the effort had yet to result in a slowing of infections of the U.K. virus variant in the community.

"We could trace all, or nearly all the cases, to a single person who travelled to Wengen from Great Britain," Nartey said. "In the meantime, the infections spread very quickly to the workers in Wengen."

Nartey said the British tourist should have gone into enforced quarantine, but failed to do so and was only isolated from the rest of the community after a positive test. The tourist eventually went into quarantine.

While Bern officials asked residents to remain at home and keep maintain social distance, the region's ski areas, like most Swiss resorts, remain open.

"Yes, we are open," reads the Wengen tourist website advertising that the Kleine Scheidegg and the Maennlichen ski areas, where the Lauberhorn race starts, still welcome visitors.

Switzerland has allowed ski resorts to remain open, unlike Italy, France, Austria and Germany, as it seeks to balance health considerations with efforts to protect its economy.

Switzerland has registered 127 infections caused by variants of the coronavirus, most from Britain but a few from South Africa.

(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Giles Elgood)