Coronavirus: Yodellers reject blame for 'one of Europe's worst COVID outbreaks'

17 October 2020, 14:58 | Updated: 17 October 2020, 18:44

The cast of a yodelling musical have rejected blame for a COVID-19 outbreak dubbed one of the worst in Europe.

The performances in Schwyz, Switzerland, were attended by 600 fans at the end of September - and coronavirus cases there have more than doubled to 1,238 since the middle of that month.

With an infection rate of 408 cases per 100,000 people, it is now the worst-hit region in Switzerland.

But a cast member from "Forever and Always", which enforced social distancing but did not require attendees to wear face masks, has dismissed the idea that the yodellers are responsible as "pure slander".

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Erwin Bertschy admitted three other performers had tested positive for COVID-19 five days after the shows, but said the organisers had a "protection concept that was adhered to".

"At the same time, the restaurants were open all night and they were full to the brim," he told Sky News. "But it's easier to blame an external organiser."

Fellow cast member Maja Keller-Roth agreed, saying there were other events during that weekend in Schwyz where people could have caught the virus.

"We think it's a shame and sad that the media are now dragging us through the mud," she told Sky News.

Beat Hegner, the managing director of the venue that hosted the performances, appeared to accept some responsibility when he told a Swiss TV channel: "We couldn't help what happened with this yodelling group.

"We learned nine days after the performances that several people in the troupe were infected. From there, we couldn't control the chain of infection."

Some scientists have suggested singing could spread the virus via airborne droplets.

Intensive care wards are filling up at Schwyz hospital, prompting one of its directors, Franziska Follmi, to warn that the hospital "can't manage" if the rise in cases continues.

"The explosion in the number of cases in Schwyz is one of the worst in all of Europe," said Reto Nuesch in a video appealing to the public.

"It is time for you, the population, to react. Wear masks, stop partying."

He took aim at the local government, saying that "the measures were not formulated clearly enough until now".

The local government only announced on Monday that masks would become compulsory for all public and private events of more than 50 people.

Switzerland's federal system gives leeway to its regions - known as cantons - to set health policy.

In a sign of a second wave, the country reported another daily record of 3,105 new coronavirus cases on Friday.

The Alpine nation has confirmed more than 71,000 cases in total and over 1,800 deaths.

Geneva this week limited public gatherings to 100 people, and now requires contact details to be taken for events of more than 15 people.

"If we don't get a handle on this, we run the risk of getting into a situation that's harder to control," said Bertrand Levrat, general director of Geneva Hospitals.

"We are really at a turning point - things can go both ways."