By John Miller
ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss police said on Wednesday they are investigating 12 cases in which British tourists ignored quarantine orders aimed at containing new COVID-19 virus variants after hundreds of fellow nationals are believed to have fled the country.
On Dec. 21, the government ordered people who arrived from Britain and South Africa since Dec. 14 into a 10-day quarantine, while temporarily halting flights, leading to some being stranded in resorts including Verbier, a popular destination for British skiers.
They were supposed to stay indoors, away from other people.
The canton of Valais, where Verbier is located, sent 220 police to enforce restrictions, including operations in which they checked up on selected quarantined tourists.
"Of the 150 people who were checked at the holiday destinations, 138 guests consistently adhered to the quarantine," Valais police said. "Investigations are currently under way in 12 cases where the tourists had already left the canton."
Far more than a dozen left, however. Hundreds of Britons have fled quarantine in Verbier, with the health minister attributing the exodus to an "impossible situation".
At least seven people in Switzerland have been detected with the mutant virus, five with the British version and two with a version detected in South Africa.
Two variants were first identified in Britain and South Africa.
The punishment British tourists, some of whom own Swiss vacation property, could face in Valais is unclear, though laws governing "dangerous diseases" could mean quarantine violators are slapped with fines of up to 10,000 Swiss francs ($11,330).
Switzerland is sticking to a "lockdown light," shutting restaurants but leaving ski areas open as it balances health considerations with the economy.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Nick Macfie)