Italy calls for ban on Alpine skiing over Christmas
Neighbouring countries unconvinced by plan to keep Europe’s ski resorts closed
Italy has called for a blanket ban on skiing in the Alps over Christmas to prevent a third wave of coronavirus.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Italy cannot afford to allow holidays to take place on the snow because of the risk of uncontrollable outbreaks, just as parts of Europe are making progress in tackling the virus.
The World Health Organisation also raised concerns about ski resorts reopening in winter.
Ski resorts were blamed for being incubators of the disease at the start of the pandemic in March and Mr Conte fears the mistakes of the past could be repeated.
He urged the European Union to create a common rulebook for all the Alpine nations.
"I think it is a European problem,” he said. “If Italy decided to shut down all its ski lifts without any support from France, Austria and the other countries, then Italian tourists would risk going abroad and taking the contagion back home.”
Mr Conte said he had discussed his planned blanket ban with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Mr Macron announced on Tuesday that France’s ski resorts would remain closed in December but could reopen in January “under favourable conditions”.
Other Alpine nations were lukewarm on Italy’s proposal.
Austria, whose biggest cluster of the first wave of the pandemic was at the ski resort of Ischgl, said Mr Conte’s plan was costly.
"If the EU does in fact force skiing areas to stay closed, that will mean costs of up to €2 billion ($2.4bn). If that is what the EU really wants, it will also have to pay for it," Austrian Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel said.
Italy's ski regions have drafted restrictions on the number of passengers that could be carried by ski lifts and on daily passes sold – but this still needs government approval.
Mr Conte, however, rejected claims that the ski slopes were Covid-safe.
“The protocol is one thing, but everything that revolves around holidays on the snow is uncontrollable,” he said.
Italy reported 853 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, soaring from 630 the day before and the highest daily toll since March 28.
The country also registered 23,232 new coronavirus infections, up marginally from 22,930 the day before.
Despite the higher death toll, infections in Italy have fallen from a high of more than 40,000 two weeks ago, and many shopkeepers, hotels and restaurants are pinning their hopes on a relaxation of restrictions around Christmas.
Valeria Ghezzi, president of the Italian ski lift association, urged Mr Conte not to let resort towns fall into economic ruin.
“Conte should remember that an economy that supports entire mountain communities is at risk,” she said.
However, French authorities warned that regional hospitals could quickly become overwhelmed under the additional strain of tourists.
Jean-Luc Bock, president of a French association of mountain resort mayors, said: "Obviously we really want a reopening, but not at the cost of endangering public health.”
Austria’s Ischgl resort was dubbed the ground zero of Europe’s first coronavirus outbreak.
An ongoing class action lawsuit alleges that Austria failed to warn tourists over the super-spreader event, and the country could be forced to pay out €5m in compensation if the legal action succeeds.
Updated: November 26, 2020 02:53 PM