Twelve British tourists are being investigated by Swiss police for allegedly escaping a hastily-imposed Covid quarantine.
The skiers were among hundreds of Britons on holiday in the luxury Alpine resort of Verbier when the Swiss government suddenly announced a retroactive 10-day quarantine.
It was reported that many fled the resort, in the canton of Valais, rather than going into lockdown. Hoteliers said some guests left with no warning under cover of darkness.
Among the Britons who fled was top Brexiteer Andy Wigmore, a spokesman for Leave.EU campaign co-founder Arron Banks.
He was holidaying at the Wengen ski resort when he received a message from Swiss authorities informing him of the mandatory quarantine coming into effect on December 22.
Wigmore, 54, and his family fled to France that day, reaching the border 20 minutes before the quarantine began.
The quarantine controversy has caused huge embarrassment in Switzerland and led to a blame-game between the federal government – which imposed the retroactive quarantine – and the Valais authorities charged with implementing it.
A Swiss police spokesman said that of 150 Britons people who were checked, 138 ‘fully complied’ with the quarantine, while 12 others had already left at the time officers carried out the check.
Twelve British tourists are being investigated by Swiss police for allegedly escaping a hastily-imposed Covid quarantine imposed in the luxury resort of Verbier (pictured)
The skiers were among hundreds of Britons on holiday in the luxury Alpine resort when the Swiss government suddenly announced a retroactive 10-day quarantine
On December 21, the Swiss government announced all arrivals from the UK and South Africa since December 14 must isolate due to the detection of a new mutant strain of Covid.
The exact number of Britons on holiday in Valais at the time the quarantine was imposed is still unknown.
So far, 863 people from the UK and 13 from South Africa have been identified but 269 of these have yet to be found.
Of the 876 people, 15 people were granted an exemption from quarantine on special grounds, 351 are still in quarantine, others have ended their isolation and some have returned home.
Lists drawn up by the Federal Office of Public Health notified the canton of 291 arrivals since December 14. The other 585 people were identified by tourism offices.
But Jean-Bernard Moix, director of Health Promotion Valais, said the figures do not reflect the reality.
It was reported that many fled the resort, in the canton of Valais, rather than going into lockdown. Hoteliers said some guests left with no warning under cover of darkness
He said: ‘It’s missing all those people who didn’t report to the authorities or who weren’t automatically included in the lists during a check. We know there are more.
‘And there are 269 who cannot be found – we know they were in Valais but their exact whereabouts are unknown.’
The Valais health department sent its lists to the police who carried out 150 random checks between December 24 and 30.
A police spokesman said: ‘The police carried out random checks to ensure that British nationals staying in Valais complied with the quarantine measures.
‘Of the 150 people checked at their place of stay, 138 have fully complied with the measures ordered. Investigations are on-going concerning 12 tourists who had already left the canton at the time of the police check.
‘The cantonal police do not comment on the details. Investigations are underway.’
Breaking the quarantine can result in a fine of up to 10,000 Swiss francs (£8,300).
The police said no fines had yet been issued.
The spokesman added: ‘The vast majority of the population and tourists fully comply with health protection measures.
‘There is good collaboration with all the partners, in particular the municipalities and the ski lift companies.
The quarantine controversy has caused huge embarrassment in Switzerland and led to a blame-game between the federal government – which imposed the retroactive quarantine – and the Valais authorities charged with implementing it
‘With the support of the municipal police, this commitment will continue over the coming days.
‘We are counting on the solidarity and responsibility of everyone so that this holiday season runs smoothly despite the current pandemic.’
Speaking to MailOnline on Monday, Mr Wigmore said: ‘We were like the Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music, we made it over the mountains to freedom!,’
‘There were police stopping everyone and asking them if they were British.
‘We were among a number of Brits who made it out.’
Wigmore and his family caught a train to Paris and arrived in London on December 23 via Eurostar.
Wigmore, who was speaking from his home in Oxfordshire, said the message from Swiss authorities warned him not to leave his room or residence and to avoid all contacts.
It also said that a £8,324 [CHF 10,000] fine could be charged for non-compliance.
‘The message was pretty ominous,’ he told MailOnline, adding that he was contacted several times by Swiss authorities as they attempted to establish his whereabouts before he eventually told them he was back in England.
‘If we had not got out when we did we would have missed Christmas,’ he said.
The former diplomat also described his journey from Switzerland in an Instagram post which gained renewed attention on Monday when it was reported that hundreds of tourists from Britain forced into quarantine at another Swiss ski resort fled in the night rather than seeing their holidays go downhill.
Last night Andy Wigmore claimed he had not broken any rules, telling MailOnline: ‘I am now in quarantine and have been since I got back from France.
‘We left Switzerland before the new regulations came into force, so we didn’t break any rules.
‘I am part of the Oxford Covid test so I had a test before I went to Switzerland, I had a test when I got back from France and I’m planning to have another test in the next couple of days.
So far, seven cases of the new British strain of coronavirus have been detected in Switzerland, including one in Valais.
‘The patient mentioned has been identified and further investigations are underway,’ Mr Moix said.
Verbier is nicknamed Little London by locals due to British tourists making up 20 per cent of winter guests.
Simon Wiget, the Director of Verbier Tourist Office, defended his most important foreign client.
He said: ‘We accept it is a sanitary decision and it is very difficult for the state, particularly when we are seeing a new mutant strain.
‘But the British must not be stigmatised. The Brits arrived in Verbier anticipating fresh mountain air but then the government told them they have to quarantine retroactively and suddenly they are stuck in a hotel room.
‘The reflex would be to leave if you are told this. I think the vast majority of people would have believed they were acting responsibly and within the law.
‘There was no great escape in the dead of night. They are being picked on unfairly.
‘The hotels here did the correct thing and informed the authorities of who was staying but it’s not for the hotels to enforce any measures.’
Among the Britons who fled was top Brexiteer Andy Wigmore, a spokesman for Leave.EU campaign co-founder Arron Banks
Jean-Marc Sandoz, spokesman for the municipality of Bagnes, which includes Verbier, said he understood the guests’ frustration.
He said: ‘We understand their anger. Families with small children suddenly got stuck in a 20 square-metre hotel room. It was unbearable.’
He said the tourists left ‘a little angry with Switzerland’ and with the feeling of having been ‘trapped’.
The federal government and the canton of Valais, where Verbier, is located, are blaming each other.
Wigmore and his family travelled from Wengen to Basel before catching a train to Paris and heading to the UK via Eurostar
He wrote in an Instagram post that he and his family ‘managed to escape’ by crossing into France and catching the last Eurostar from Paris to reach England in time for Christmas
The President of the Valais government, Christophe Darbellay, said the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) had delivered the list of passenger data for flights from the UK too late.
‘That made our work unnecessarily difficult,’ he said. ‘But everything was tried to enforce the quarantine regulations.’
Grégoire Gogniat, a spokesman for FOPH, said: ‘It is up to the cantons to enforce the quarantine.’
He said it was ‘unacceptable’ for people to evade it. The office also rejected the accusation that the passenger data was too slow.
The decision to open ski areas was taken at a cantonal level.
The government spokesman said: ‘This was on condition that the cantons ensure that appropriate protection concepts are in place and that measures can be implemented at any time if the epidemiological situation so requires.’
Switzerland has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the pandemic, which has resulted in some of Europe’s fiercest infection rates during the second wave.
The health minister admitted that the government blundered in easing Covid-19 restrictions too far.
Alain Berset said: ‘In summer, we had the feeling that the worst was over. And then we were far too optimistic.’