Group of 900 Dutch students return from North Italy ski trip

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A group of 900 Dutch college students who took a ski trip to northern Italy despite Europe’s worst outbreak of coronavirus there returned home by bus on Saturday, facing an outcry on social media.

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The Vindicat fraternity’s trip did not violate Dutch health or travel guidelines, but they returned home a day early amid concern from the public and questions by members of parliament.

The students arrived in the northern city of Groningen in a convoy of 14 buses and were given instructions by local health workers but not quarantined.

Guidelines for the students, mostly in their 20s, are to practice “social distancing” if they have cold symptoms, and to self-quarantine and contact their regular doctor if they develop flu symptoms.

Jos Rietveld of Groningen’s health services said that he was “satisfied” with the group’s cooperation over the past week. “The students are taking our instructions very seriously,” he said.

The Vindicat group spent six days in Sestriere in the Italian Alps, 100 km (60 miles) west of Turin, and even further from the towns east of Milan that have been hardest-hit in the Italian outbreak.

During their stay, the Dutch government changed its travel advice for the region, saying on Tuesday that trips to northern Italy should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

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Concern about the group’s trip was “understandable”, Vindicat leader Floris Hamann told national daily De Telegraaf. “The dynamic changed on Tuesday night.”

Hamann said authorities had not ordered them to return, but they felt pressure to do so from group members and their families.

“We rode back with a good feeling and we’re happy with the information we’ve been given,” he said.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Netherlands has been rising steadily and stood at 128 as of Friday, with one death. Most but not all Dutch cases have been linked to the north Italy outbreak.

Italy has more than 4,600 cases, with 197 deaths.

Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Frances Kerry