Germany urges EU nations to close ski slopes over Christmas amid pandemic

Berlin (CNN) – As the crucial Christmas holiday season approaches, European relations on skiing could become frosty.

Germany is striving for a coordinated EU approach to keep the ski areas in the Alpine countries closed in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus. However, reaching an agreement with neighboring Austria is a challenge, said Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday.

“We will again urge our citizens to avoid unnecessary contacts. That also means private trips, tourist trips. The ski season is just around the corner. We are trying to reach an agreement in Europe on whether we can close all ski areas.” “Said Merkel to the legislature.” Unfortunately … when we hear from Austria we don’t seem to have easy success, but we will try again. “

According to the Austrian government, the Austrian slopes should be open this year, but with different restrictions from resort to resort. “Apres-ski” will be banned and ski gondolas will be out of order, it said.

In Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, some slopes have already been opened for skiing. Ski resorts in Sweden, which have tightened restrictions in the last few days but never imposed a national lock, are also open for skiing.

On Wednesday, Germany extended its nationwide partial lockdown to December 20, with the measures expected to be extended into January. Merkel has asked the Germans to stay home during the Christmas season.

“Unfortunately, we have to say that we cannot promise any easing for Christmas and New Years,” she said on Thursday, although gatherings of up to 10 people without children are expected between December 23 and January 1.

“Christmas can be a safe time. We don’t want the festive season to be a spreader event,” said Merkel, adding that “it is up to each of us” to adhere to the restrictive measures.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the federal states called on the federal government to “ensure at European level that ski tourism is not permitted before January 10th”.

During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of Covid-19 infections across Europe were traced back to ski resorts in Austria. Among them were many Germans who were infected in the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl.

Ischgl and its neighboring villages attract around 500,000 visitors every winter, including top-class celebrities and politicians in recent years.

Christian Bruna / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Ischgl and its neighboring villages attract around 500,000 visitors every winter, including top-class celebrities and politicians in recent years.

Last month, Germany issued travel warnings for popular ski resorts in Austria, Italy and Switzerland.

The regional authorities in Bavaria, the largest state in Germany, announced on Tuesday that the alpine slopes will be closed for the entire holiday season, given the current high rate of new coronavirus infections in Germany.

“We just can’t have a classic ski holiday,” said Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder. “It would be bad if the (infection) numbers rose again after the Christmas holidays because of skiing adventures.”

Söder also warned that the EU should take a unified approach for the coming ski season: “If we want to keep the borders open, we need a clear agreement on skiing. Otherwise it will be difficult.”

Key player Austria speaks out against it

Austria entered into a second national lockdown on November 17th. Schools, non-essential shops, hotels, restaurants, bars and pubs were closed until December 6th. It is not clear what impact the expected December 7th lockdown lifting will have on the ski season.

However, the Austrian finance ministry earlier this week expressed concern about an EU-wide plan for the ski sector, spokesman Felix Lamezan-Salins told CNN.

“Italy’s endeavors to open the ski areas from January 10th at the earliest would mean a loss of sales of 500 million euros per week in Austria,” said Lamezan-Salins. He added that Austria is the destination for every second booking during the winter season in the EU and that tourism accounts for around 15% of Austria’s GDP.

Austrian Finance Minister Gernot Blümel said Tuesday the pandemic posed a huge threat to winter tourism and insisted that the EU should provide compensation if the slopes had to remain closed during the Christmas holidays.

“If the European Union actually stipulates that the ski resorts must remain closed, this means costs of up to two billion euros. If the EU really wants that, it has to pay for it,” said Blümel.

“In Austria we were able to set up a system for replacing income for all areas that we officially closed within a very short period of time. If ski areas have to remain closed, the EU has to pay compensation for lost income from skiing.” Blümel added.

The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced in September that the Austrian ski season would take place, but said that après-ski parties would be banned.

Last month, an Austrian commission of experts criticized Kurz for the government’s poor handling of Austria’s worst coronavirus outbreak in March, when crowds with possible coronavirus infections fled the ski areas of Ischgl and St. Anton and contributed to the spread of the virus across Europe – before quarantine measures were imposed.

“We want to be a good example”

If the EU states close all skiing over Christmas, Switzerland could see an influx of tourists onto its slopes, provided that travel restrictions allow.

The high Swiss holiday resort of Zermatt with a view of the Matterhorn is looking forward to its visitors.

The “future for the coming winter season looks bright,” said Mayor of Zermatt Romy Biner-Hauser on Thursday to CNN.

Switzerland has done a lot to ensure its visitors safe winter holidays, she said. The new norm is social distancing in queues, reduced numbers in cable cars, compulsory wearing of masks in ski buses, trains, lifts and gondolas. There is currently no après-ski in Switzerland and people only eat in hotels at the moment. Restaurants can be open from December 13th.

The high Swiss holiday resort of Zermatt with a view of the Matterhorn is looking forward to its visitors.

The high Swiss holiday resort of Zermatt with a view of the Matterhorn is looking forward to its visitors.

Shutterstock

“We want to be a good example of how things can work so that other resorts can benefit from our knowledge,” said Biner-Hauser.

“It’s not just about skiing – there are also winter holidays for hiking or tobogganing. During the winter holidays, people can recharge their batteries, get some sunshine and fresh air.

Zermatt is a year-round resort but was closed earlier this year due to the pandemic.

“We have to live with this virus and life has to go on,” said Biner-Hauser.

No skiing in France over Christmas

Some EU states are pursuing an approach that is more in line with Germany’s demand for coordinated measures before the holiday season.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex confirmed Thursday that the country’s ski stations would not be open for skiing again during the Christmas holidays, despite not specifying what would happen for the New Year.

“With regard to ski resorts, we have estimated that the epidemic spread, but also the situation of hospitals in the regions affected, particularly in Auvergne Rhône-Alpes and Bourgogne Franche-Comté, do not allow us to open up for the Christmas season Take your eye. ” “he told a press conference.

“But of course it is free for everyone to go to these resorts to enjoy the pure air of our beautiful mountains. Shops without bars and restaurants are open. All ski lifts and public facilities are closed to the public.”

In a speech on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron warned of a three-stage relaxation of the coronavirus measures that it was very unlikely that winter sports resorts would reopen for the Christmas holidays.

“It is much better to support a re-opening in January under good conditions. We will coordinate with our European neighbors on this point,” he said.

Having a safe and effective vaccine is a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. However, there are still many challenging steps ahead – from manufacturing in large quantities to shipping worldwide – before a vaccine can affect the spread of the virus.

The first phase of easing is expected to begin on Saturday. Shops and places of worship that are not absolutely necessary may have a maximum of 30 people.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told LA7 on Wednesday that winter tourism was an issue that “needs to be discussed at European level” and said he had already met Merkel, Macron and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, talked about.

“We are all aware that we cannot allow indiscriminate vacations in the snow,” he said, as it could trigger a “third wave” of infections.

Conte stressed that it was a “European problem” because if Italy decided to close its ski resorts without the support of similar decisions in Austria and France, Italian tourists could carry Covid infections home from their slopes.

Nadine Schmidt from CNN reported from Berlin and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Nada Bashir, Nicola Ruatolo, Stephanie Halasz, Pierre Bairin and Antonia Mortensen contributed to this report.

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