The Swiss government has decided to allow ski areas to open during the holidays, despite pressure from abroad to close its resorts due to a high number of coronavirus cases.
At the same time, the government announced stricter measures on Friday to control the spread of the pandemic.
Confirmed coronavirus infections rose by 4,382 in Switzerland over the past 24 hours, data from Swiss health authorities showed on Friday. The death toll rose by 101.
This is the first time since the beginning of November that the number of registered coronavirus infections has risen compared to the same day the week before. It was 4,312 last Friday.
“The epidemiological situation in Switzerland remains extremely serious,” the government said in statement on FridayExternal link after its meeting to discuss the pandemic and the ski resorts issue.
New Covid-19 cases rose sharply in Switzerland in November. Federal and cantonal measures have slowed its spread. The number of cases has fallen but the overall total has levelled off at a high level, according to the authorities. In some cantons the numbers are stagnating or even rising. The situation in the hospitals is also tense. The aim is therefore to reduce the number of infections further, especially ahead of the holidays. The federal government called on German-speaking cantons with rising numbers to “take immediate action”.
“Ski areas should be allowed to open for domestic tourism,” the government said, but resorts would need permits from cantonal governments from December 22.
“The prerequisite is that the epidemiological situation so allows, and that hospitals, contact tracing services and testing sites have sufficient capacity.”
Health Minister Alain Berset said the decision to keep Swiss resorts open was designed "above all for people living in Switzerland...not beyond that".
"We don't want people coming from surrounding countries that are closed off and then for people to say that we are taking advantage of this situation," he said. "That would be very unpleasant for everyone - for Switzerland and the resorts concerned."
The government has not fixed any limits on the number of visitors allowed into resorts – this had been one of the possible measures mooted ahead of the cabinet meeting and rejected by parliament on Thursday.
But all enclosed ski transport, like gondolas and trains, will be limited to two-thirds capacity from December 9.
Cantons have a duty to monitor compliance, the government warned.
Switzerland’s approach has put it on a collision course with some of its neighbours. France and Austria want to prevent their citizens from skiing abroad by imposing compulsory quarantines.
On Friday, ski resorts reacted with relief to the government's announcement. But the tourism organisation Engadin St Mortiz said in a statement to the news agency AWP that the lack of foreign tourists would be a hard blow that would not be compensated by more domestic tourists.
Measures ahead of the holidays
The Swiss government also announced further national measures.“There is an additional risk of the virus spreading over the festive period as people do more shopping and get together with friends and family,” the government statement continued.
The number of people allowed to be in a shop at any one time will be reduced. “The restriction (space per customer in larger stores: 10m2 instead of 4m2) will come into force on December 9 and remain in place until further notice.”
For restaurants, contact details for at least one guest per table must be registered. On New Year's Eve, closing time will be extended exceptionally from 11pm to 1am to reduce the risk of spontaneous private gatherings.
Singing, whether indoors or outdoors, is not permitted, apart from in a family setting or at primary and lower secondary schools, added the government.
It also recommends that people from no more than two households meet privately or when visiting a restaurant to keep the number of contacts to a minimum.
Meanwhile, Switzerland on Friday updated its listExternal link of countries with a high risk of coronavirus infection from which new arrivals must quarantine themselves for ten days.
The United States has been added to list, which also now includes more areas of neighbouring Italy and Austria, as well as Hungary, Poland and Portugal. It takes effect from December 14.
UPDATE: The lead of this story was updated on January 5, 2021.