Tourists escape in 'cloak and dagger operation' to avoid having to self-isolate

THEY had fled a wet, gloomy UK for the fresh powder snow and bright blue skies of Switzerland's finest ski resorts.

But in the end, British tourists discovered that it was mighty difficult to escape a global pandemic and so found themselves, instead, making a frantic dash back home.

Hundreds of Britons who had opted for a festive break in Verbier decided to flee in a "cloak-and-dagger operation" after the new strain of coronavirus, first discovered in the UK, prompted Swiss authorities to hastily enforce a retroactive 10-day quarantine.

On Dec 21, the government announced that all arrivals from the UK since Dec 14 must isolate, bringing holidays to an abrupt halt for around 420 people. By Sunday, fewer than a dozen remained in the Alpine resort.

Rather than stay cooped up in their chalets, they decided to take flight. While some chose to cross the border by train, others left in the dead of night, fearful that hoteliers would report them to police. Britons not subject to the restrictions said they felt they had to speak in "hushed tones" when out and about to avoid a grilling.

The ensuing chaos prompted a blame game amongst local authorities yesterday (Monday) about who was responsible and whether border controls should have been tighter. Many on social media branded the fleeing Britons selfish and irresponsible, whilst local tourist chiefs rallied around their most important foreign clientele, who comprise 20 per cent of Verbier's winter guests.

One hotel worker said: "We are a holiday resort not a prison. I don't blame them for leaving rather than sitting cooped up in a bedroom 24 hours a day."

Simon Wiget, director of Verbier Tourist Office, said: "The British must not be stigmatised. They arrived in Verbier anticipating fresh mountain air but then 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." Mr Wiget insisted there was "no great escape in the dead of night" but that it was not for hotels to enforce restrictions.


Among those who fled the country last week was Andy Wigmore, a business partner of Aaron Banks and one of the self styled "Bad boys of Brexit".

Mr Wigmore had flown to Wengen with his wife, two children and two of their friends, for a week's skiing and had been due to return home on Christmas Eve.

They were on the slopes when they were warned by a local that the border would close at 6pm that evening, prompting them to drop everything and flee. "We had to get out of there or we'd have been stuck," he told The Daily Telegraph. "The Swiss are incredibly efficient, their track and trace system is world class, they track you wherever you are and are constantly texting you.

"We had three-and-a-half hours. We dropped the car at the airport, then went to Basel and took a train over the border. There were a couple of other Brits doing the same thing. We thought it best to take a little village route to evade capture if we missed the deadline.

"There were so many police around at the border, we saw Brits being stopped. We only just made it with 20 minutes to spare - if we hadn't had the tip-off we would have been stuck."

Mr Wigmore, from Little Tew, Oxfordshire, managed to catch a train to Strasbourg, then on to Paris where they caught the last Eurostar back to London.

"We had other children with us and their parents wanted them back for Christmas so the pressure was on," he said. "I don't think it was irresponsible and we didn't break any rules. It's about being sensible, and we quarantined when we got back to the UK."

A hotelier, who did not want to be identified, said two British guests who had been due to stay until Boxing Day, left on Christmas Eve. They said: "To be honest, I am surprised they stayed as long as they did. They didn't tell me they were leaving, maybe they thought I would tell the police which of course is not my job."

Among those who stayed to quarantine were Tom Waycott, 27, and Josh Pitchford, 28, from London, who had arrived at the Hotel La Rotonde on Dec 18 for a five-day holiday. Mr Waycott said they stuck to the rules to avoid the "hefty" fine of up to 10,000 Swiss francs.

"We have a balcony which has been a saviour because we are literally not allowed out of our room," he said.

"The hotel has been brilliant and they put food outside the door for us.

"A friend told us about a Brit on Christmas Eve who scanned his ski lift pass, which had his name on it, at the bottom of Les Ruinettes lift and by the time he was at the top there were officials waiting for him."

The Telegraph, London