They came from across the world to ski in the most famous resorts of the Austrian alps.

Jacob Homiller and his college friends flew in from the United States. Jane Witt, a retired lecturer, arrived from London for a family reunion. Annette Garten, the youth director at a tennis club in Hamburg, was celebrating her birthday with her husband and two grown children.

After returning home, Mr. Homiller and four friends tested positive, Ms. Witt fought for her life and Ms. Garten’s family became ill.

They all knew in late February and early March that the coronavirus was spreading in nearby northern Italy, and across the other border in Germany, but no one was alarmed. Austrian officials downplayed concerns as tourists crowded into cable cars by day and après-ski bars at night.

“The whole world meets in Ischgl,” said Ms. Garten.

Then they all went home, unwittingly taking the virus with them. Infected in Ischgl (pronounced “ISH-gul”) or in surrounding villages, thousands of skiers carried the disease to more than 40 countries on five continents. Many of Iceland’s first known cases were traced to Ischgl. In March, nearly half the cases in Norway were linked to Austrian ski holidays.

Nine months into an outbreak that has killed more than one million people worldwide, Ischgl is where the era of global tourism, made possible by cheap airfares and open borders, collided with a pandemic. For decades, as trade and travel drew the world closer, public health policy, enshrined by treaty, encouraged global mass tourism by calling for open borders, even during outbreaks.

The ease and expansion of global travel is why “super-spreader” events helped accelerate the pandemic: Just as skiers in Ischgl carried the virus around the world, congregants at a French megachurch took the disease to Africa, Latin America and across Europe.

Now, at least 1,000 people from dozens of countries intend to sue the Austrian government. A lawyer in Vienna filed the first test cases on Wednesday on behalf of four visitors, two of whom have since died of Covid-19. The lawsuit contends that the government should have closed the resort earlier and warned tourists to stay away.

“They knew, they just weren’t telling anyone,” said Ms. Witt, who is part of the lawsuit.

“Wealth before health,” she said.

NYTIMES

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