Despite news that some ski resorts in Switzerland have begun to close, as governments across Europe react to the continued spread of coronaviru, the majority have chosen to remain open, for now.
From tomorrow (Tuesday) the non-EU nation will enter a ‘light’ lockdown, with restaurants, sports and recreation centres ordered to close for a month, as the country struggles to curb rising cases of the virus.
“Our (infection rate over the last two weeks) is three times higher than Spain’s, and nearly three times as high as France’s and Belgium’s, where it is known that the situation has been very difficult,” Health Minister Alain Berset told a news conference. The seven-day case rate in Switzerland is 354 per 100,000.
People in Switzerland are being told to reduce social contacts and avoid non-essential travel as they are warned further measures could be introduced if cases do not drop.
However, like its neighbour Austria, Switzerland will continue to permit ski resorts to remain open, but outdoor sport is limited to groups of no more than five people.
Each of the Swiss cantons remain in charge of whether resorts in their area can stay open over Christmas – a final decision will be made by each state by December 22, with some unfortunately choosing to stop lifts from turning already.
Cantons in central and east Switzerland will close their resorts from tomorrow, including those in Zurich, Zug and Lucerne, all of which are home to smaller ski resorts that are largely unheard-of by British skiers. Andermatt in Uri is so far the only major resort visited by Britons that has announced it will also shut. The closures are currently only short-term, until December 28 or 29 when the situation will be reassessed.
The major ski cantons of Bern (home to Gstaad, Wengen, Grindelwald and Adelboden), Valais (home to Zermatt, Verbier, Saas-Fee and Crans-Montana) and Vaud (home to Leysin and Villars) are standing by their resorts and are keeping their slopes open – with no plans currently to change this as measures are ramped up to prevent the spread of the virus, including a limit of lift capacity of two thirds.
In Verbier a new rapid testing centre has opened this weekend. It will be open seven days a week and will test both asymptomatic and symptomatic people, with appointments available online. The resort’s lift company has also said it will be limiting the number of skiers on the mountain each day, if it needs to. This means it will be compulsory to purchase lift passes online in advance.
“The political and tourist authorities are doing their utmost to ensure that the holidays can be spent in the best possible conditions. But only the collaboration of all those involved in the resort and the strict application of sanitary measures will give us a chance to save our season,” said Eloi Rossier, president of the commune of Bagnes.
Graubünden (home to Davos, Laax and St Moritz) and Freiburg (home to Charmey and La Berra) are the last remaining cantons to make a decision on whether to keep resorts open over Christmas – with announcements expected later today.
“The ski resorts play an important economical part for the tourism industry in Switzerland for international guests but especially also for the domestic market. Spending time in the winter wonderland of the Swiss Alps – the largest and most beautiful outdoor fitness centre – not only during Christmas but during the whole winter season is very important for people in Switzerland, with skiing often being called the ‘national sport’ of Switzerland,” said Myriam Ziesack, head of communications for the Swiss Tourist Board.
Elsewhere in Europe, it was announced on Friday that Austria will enter a third national lockdown on Boxing Day, with shops, restaurants, theatres, museums and schools closed until January 18. However in a ray of hope for Austria’s keen skiers, ski resorts will be allowed to stay open.
Earlier this month the Government announced that skiing would be possible from December 24, for local people only. Under the new lockdown rules, rather than a federal ban, the decision to close resorts has been given to each of the country’s provinces, who will assess whether resorts can operate based on the number of hospital beds available – the same approach to the one adopted in neighbouring Switzerland. So far, none have decided to postpone their planned reopening on Christmas Eve.
“Despite stricter corona measures, ski resorts in Tirol are allowed to open again on 24 December, but under strict safety conditions,” said Elena Protopopow, marketing manager at the Austrian Tirol Tourist Board. One new rule across Austria is that people will be required to wear a certified FFP2 face mask, rather than a ski buff or material mask, inside lifts, where capacity has been reduced by half.
Protopopow is optimistic that the mountains won’t be desert this Christmas, as resorts hope locals will “take the opportunity to do sports in the fresh air.” However many “don’t expect a big rush because of the lack of guests from abroad,” which is set to have a potentially devastating impact on local economies.
“Every third Euro in Tirol is earned in tourism and every fourth job depends on tourism. Small businesses in the gastronomy and hotel industry will suffer greatly,” said Protopopow, who confirms businesses will be allowed to reopen and international visitors welcomed by January 18 2021, depending on the effectiveness of the third national lockdown.
In the remaining major European ski destinations, Germany has already announced a national lockdown over the Christmas period, which limits family gatherings to just five people, cancels all carolling, parties and bans the drinking of alcohol outdoors. Its ski resorts are already closed. Meanwhile France lifted its national lockdown on December 15, but ski lifts in the country remain at a standstill until January 7. Resorts in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Bulgaria and northern Spain are open but for locals only.
Since Boris Johnson announced Tier 4 restrictions for people in London and the South East of England on Saturday, it is now near-impossible for Britons to ski in Europe, until further notice. Following the UK’s announcement of the new mutated strain of coronavirus, countries have begun to close their borders to British nationals and suspend air travel with the UK, including Switzerland, Austria, France and Italy.