Oral beer pong and sharing whistles, these are just two of many ways coronavirus could have spread like wildfire in a tiny mountain getaway tucked in the Austrian Alps that is known for its world-famous party scene. Ischgl has gained a reputation as the “Ibiza of the Alps” because of its raucous après ski culture. Many of its over 500,000 seasonal visitors come to participate in the extracurricular activities as they do the skiing.
Now the town is accused of dragging its feet to close down operations despite the knowledge that the coronavirus was present and is dealing with the fallout that many visitors were most likely infected there before returning to their home countries, spreading the virus throughout Europe. It’s difficult to put an exact number on infections stemming from Ischgl but its well into the hundreds and could easily go up from there.
CNN reports on March 4th the Icelandic government issued an official warning that a group of its nationals had contracted coronavirus in Ischgl. Austrian authorities were aware of the warning and allowed the ski resort to remain open for another nine days before fully quarantining the resort on March 13. Ischgl’s tightly packed bars and clubs were closed on March 10th.
Jan Pravsgaard Christensen, a professor of immunology of infectious diseases, at the University of Copenhagen, was confused about how the virus had spread so successfully in Ischgl until officials looked into what actually happens inside the bars and clubs, including a special brand of beer pong that is popular in town:
“At first, we didn’t understand how this many cases could have happened. We realized that they exchanged saliva because they were playing beer pong.”
Instead of throwing ping pong balls into Solo Cups, they use their mouths to spit them at each other i.e. Oral Beer Pong. Christensen did not single out any specific bars where the game took place.
A 36-year-old who later tested positive for coronavirus, is one of many who used a whistle to blow on to get people to move out of their way as they took shots to customers. Customers also liked to occasionally blow the whistle for fun: “I can see why people would want to whistle it — and nobody knew he was sick.”
Europe is now the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak and the EU has closed its borders to all non-essential travel as it attempts to slow its spread. The Austrian government put Ischgl under full quarantine on March 13th. Five days later, local officials extended these measures and ordered all 279 communities in Tyrol to isolate themselves. Time will tell what role Ischgl played in the early days of the spread.