Piste-off: EU attempts united front to close ski resorts and prevent COVID

The Ischgl ski resort in Austria, which became a superspreader locality for coronavirus infections among winter vacationers in March 2020.

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Some governments have ordered the shutdown of all ski resorts, fearing a repeat of earlier this year, when thousands of European tourists were infected in a trendy Austrian ski destination and spread COVID-19 throughout the continent. But others are reluctant to forego crucial business.

  • The French government reiterated its decision to ban all forms of ski lifts in mountain resorts during the Christmas season, after French President Emmanuel Macron announced last week that ski resorts wouldn’t be allowed to reopen.

  • In Italy, where similar measures have been taken by the government, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called this week for a coordination at the European level to avoid ending up with different rules in neighboring alpine countries.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this week that she would “try to get a vote at the European level on the possibility to close all ski resorts,” in order to curb the pandemic.

  • Switzerland, however, intends to keep its ski resorts open during the winter season, with the Swiss health minister saying this week that this could go on as long as strict safety measures are in place.

  • In Austria, where the village of Ischgl became a cluster later linked to infections in 45 countries, finance minister Gernot Blümel said the European Union “would have to pay for it” if it demanded the closure of ski resorts.

The outlook: The EU doesn’t have the legal power to order the closure of tourist resorts in member states, so the only agreement that could be reached at the European level would be a political one, which governments would promise to implement.

But a deal at the EU level wouldn’t solve the case of Switzerland. The two regions where the economic impact of a total closure would be hardest would be the Alps — which straddle Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and France, and the Pyrenees which delineate the Franco-Spanish border.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the risk is that governments might once again have to resort to travel bans and border closures.

From the archives (August 2020): Some of Europe’s biggest travel companies are leaving consumers covering the cost of coronavirus ⁠— holding on to cash while handing out credit notes

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