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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 1 March 2021

Austria and Switzerland thwart German attempts to bring in Christmas ski ban

Alpine nations fear full closure of winter resorts will hit tourism sector hard

Switzerland and Austria have defied Germany’s calls for a Europe-wide ban on ski tourism over Christmas.

German leader Angela Merkel threw her weight behind Italy’s proposal for a complete shutdown of the sector until January 10 to prevent a third wave of coronavirus.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was first to call for a ban after singling out ski resorts as incubators of the disease. He also feared coronavirus cases could be “imported” to his country if slopes in other Alpine nations were allowed to remain open.

France said winter resorts were free to open for the festive period but ski lifts would remain shut.

Mrs Merkel on Thursday called for a common approach across Europe.

She said: “I will say this openly that it won't be easy, but we will try. We will push for a vote in Europe on whether we can close all ski resorts.

“If you listen to noises coming out of Austria, it sadly doesn’t currently look like we will find an easy solution – but we will try again.”

Many German and foreign holidaymakers flock to Bavaria over the winter break to enjoy its pristine ski slopes.

But Bavaria's state premier Markus Soeder said current infection rates meant "we just can't have the classic ski holidays".

Resorts such as Ischgl in Austria were blamed for creating super-spreader events at the start of the pandemic in March.

People wearing protective masks travel in an open ski lift in Switzerland. Reuters 
People wearing protective masks travel in an open ski lift in Switzerland. Reuters 

That particular resort is the subject of legal action after skiers alleged they weren’t told of the risks of contracting coronavirus.

However, Austria still baulked at Mrs Merkel’s plan, with industry representatives warning the economic fallout would be “disastrous”.

The country estimates the proposed ban would cost the sector up to €2 billion ($2.4bn).

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said winter holidays would go on and called ski tourism “part of our national identity”.

Non-EU member Switzerland said ski resorts would remain open, although police have been spotted patrolling lift departures areas to ensure that skiers respect anti-Covid-19 measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing.

Cable car windows are now left open to ensure ventilation and hand gel is widely available.

The Swiss ski industry is hoping for an influx of European tourists over Christmas after Switzerland recently lifted quarantine requirements for people arriving from most of the continent.

Updated: November 26, 2020 08:30 PM

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