A top Brexiteer and former diplomat is among hundreds of Brits who fled Switzerland to avoid a pre-Christmas quarantine.
Andy Wigmore, a spokesman for Leave.EU campaign co-founder Arron Banks, 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.
‘We were like the Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music, we made it over the mountains to freedom!,’ he told MailOnline.
‘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.
Top Brexiteer and former diplomat Andy Wigmore is among hundreds of Brits who fled Switzerland to avoid a pre-Christmas quarantine. Wigmore (right) pictured on holiday in Switzerland
Andy Wigmore said he had had ‘the best time’ holidaying in Wengen, a village in the Swiss Alps, before fleeing to avoid a quarantine introduced in response to a new variant of coronavirus being discovered in the UK. Pictured: A holiday snap shared by Wigmore on Instagram
Speaking from his home in Oxfordshire, Wigmore 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.
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
Staff at the luxury Verbier resort, known as ‘Little London’ for its popularity with British tourists, began to realise guests were missing after trays of food left outside their rooms remained untouched.
A spokesman for the Bagnes municipality in the canton of Valais, where the resort is located, said roughly 420 tourists from Britain, including Swiss nationals, were ordered into quarantine before Christmas.
About 50 fled immediately, Jean-Marc Sandoz told local newspaper SonntagsZeitung, while less than a dozen of the 370 others were still at the resort as of Sunday.
While travellers from the UK require a negative coronavirus test to enter France, the border at Chartelard is often unmanned, one France-based Twitter user said.
Hundreds of tourists from Britain forced into quarantine in a Swiss ski resort fled in the night rather than seeing their holidays go downhill
Some of those who fled the Swiss Verbier resort have resurfaced in neighbouring France, according to Swiss authorities
Switzerland’s ski resorts were set to boom with snow-seeking British tourists – but a flight ban due to the new Covid-19 variant found in the UK put those plans on ice.
Some, like Verbier, remained open as cantons were largely responsible for implementing and enforcing their own coronavirus restrictions before the federal government imposed the flight ban.
The ruling by the Swiss government also included a 10-day retroactive quarantine for anyone who arrived from the UK since December 14, following the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus which experts fear spreads much more quickly.
Dozens of other countries introduced similar flight bans in response to the new variant, which has spread to several other countries in Europe.
Speaking on Monday, Alain Berset, the Swiss home affairs minister said the federal government was aware of the absconding tourists.
‘That is of course a problem. I don’t know where they have gone. I think they just went home. But the federal government has no options, we are not responsible for enforcement. We had to react quickly that everything wasn’t going perfectly, that’s clear,’ Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reported.
Switzerland’s ski resorts were set to boom with snow-seeking British tourists – but a flight ban due to the new Covid-19 variant raging in England put those plans on ice
Municipal spokesman Sandoz said many of the Verbier resort’s guests from the UK ‘stayed in quarantine for a day before they set off unnoticed under the cover of darkness’.
‘It was when they saw the meal trays remained untouched that the hoteliers noticed that the customers had gone,’ Sandoz told ATS news agency. Calls to rooms had also gone unanswered.
Some later contacted their hotels to find out whether they still had to pay for the nights they’d booked, The Guardian reported.
Sandoz said some guests had since got in touch from neighbouring France, where the ski resorts were closed ‘but the Brits could at least get some fresh air’.
He added that according to a Saturday survey of the ski resort’s hotels, fewer than 10 people would still be in quarantine.
The rest would either have left or their quarantine time would have expired.
‘We can’t blame them. In most cases, quarantine was untenable. Imagine four people staying in a hotel room of 20 square metres,’ Sandoz said.
The drastic ruling by the Swiss government included a 10-day retroactive quarantine for anyone who arrived from Britain since December 14
He said the tourists left feeling ‘a little angry with Switzerland’ and with the sense of having been ‘trapped’.
‘Guests from Britain were understandably furious, accosting hoteliers and complaining to the tourism board,’ he said. ‘We don’t know if they’ll ever return.’
Sandoz fears the incident will affect the future of the community, according to Swissinfo.ch. He said his own British-born neighbour had been criticised because of her accent despite having lived in Switzerland for 40 years.
Sandoz called the whole situation ‘the worst week our community has ever experienced’.
British tourists normally make up 21 per cent of the Verbier clientele, and most start pouring in just after Christmas.
Many Swiss visitors also cancelled bookings, fearing that the resort may have British guests carrying the new strain of the virus.
Voted Switzerland’s best ski resort for the last two years, Verbier markets itself as offering ‘adrenaline-packed thrills, simple pleasures and a chic lifestyle’.
The Verbier Tourist Office has been holding daily crisis cell meetings to try to deal with the ever-changing coronavirus picture.
The resort hit the headlines in early December after visitors shared photos of dense crowds waiting on ski lifts. No one appeared to be wearing a mask or practising social distancing.
British tourists normally make up 21 per cent of the Verbier clientele, and most start pouring in just after Christmas
Flights between Switzerland and the two countries were halted on Monday, but the first outbound flights from Zurich to Britain resumed on Thursday.
Two cases of the new British coronavirus variant have been detected in Switzerland and one in neighbouring Liechtenstein, the Swiss health ministry said on Sunday.
Two cases of the new South African variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, have also been detected, the ministry said.
At least 92 flights went from the UK to Switzerland between December 14 and 20, bringing some 10,000 tourists from Britain into the country, German news site Bild.de reported.
The Swiss Government obtained the passenger lists from each flight in order to track down the tourists, the website said.
It also persuaded telecommunications companies to send texts to everyone with a UK or South African SIM card, notifying them of the need to quarantine.