An Austrian consumer rights group filed four civil lawsuits against the country’s government over Covid-19 outbreaks at ski resorts in the West Tyrol region earlier this year.
The group also said it hopes to bring at least one class action lawsuit next year on behalf of thousands of people.
One resort, Ischgl, has been linked to cases in 45 countries after skiers brought the virus with them.
Authorities said they acted on what was known at the time.
The first case in the ski village of Ischgl was reported on March 7, but the Austrian public health agency has since said it believed there were cases in the resort as early as February 5.
The Association for Consumer Protection (VSV), a private Austrian organization, said the four civil cases were brought on behalf of individuals and all related to the ski village of Ischgl.
They are seeking damages of up to € 100,000 (£ 92,000; $ 117,000).
The VSV described the four civil lawsuits as test cases and said more than 6,000 people from different countries have signed up for potential class actions next year.
Most of those who signed up are from Germany, but the group includes people from Austria, the UK and the US.
The VSV also wrote to Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz urging him to agree to a settlement.
What is the government accused of?
The authorities claim to have reacted appropriately to the outbreaks in Tyrol according to information available at the time.
However, the VSV alleges that local and national governments were aware of the threat of massive coronavirus infection at popular ski resorts and reacted too slowly.
Alexander Klauser, a lawyer representing some of those who caught the virus at Tyrolean resorts, told a press conference on Wednesday that authorities were aware of infections as early as February.
“On February 25, the authorities closed a hotel in Innsbruck because one of the employees had tested positive, which means that the authorities reacted immediately when this case in Innsbruck – the capital of the province of Tyrol – was known.
“But they didn’t react [to later cases], although there is evidence that the Austrian authorities were informed of cases in Ischgl and other ski resorts as early as 3, 4 and 5 March. ”
He added: “A group of Icelandic tourists tested positive and the Icelandic government reported the cases to the Austrian government as early as March 5. “
How the Ischgl epidemic spread
- 5 mars: Iceland places Ischgl on list of areas at risk for coronavirus, after group of skiers contracted the infection there
- 7 mars: A waiter at an après-ski bar called Kitzloch tested positive for Covid-19. Kitzloch is due to close two days later
- 13 mars: The Paznaun Valley, including Ischgl and the seaside resort of St Anton am Arlberg, are quarantined, followed a few days later by Sölden
- Foreign tourists still allowed to leave, spreading the virus further