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Pressure increases on Swiss ski resorts

Masked skiers in Verbier on Monday – will the pistes still be open over Christmas? Keystone

The hopes of Swiss ski resorts for foreign tourists over the Christmas holidays could soon be dashed: France and Austria want to prevent their citizens from skiing abroad by imposing compulsory quarantines.

This content was published on December 3, 2020 - 14:27
Keystone-SDA/Reuters/ts

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Wednesday that his government would order citizens into isolation for seven days after skiing holidays abroad. Checkpoints would be set up at the borders with Switzerland and Spain.

The measure would be implemented if Switzerland and Spain do not close their winter sports destinations until January, as France has done, he said.

Castex said the conclusion to be drawn from this is that people should not go skiing in Spain or Switzerland. Cross-border commuters would not be affected, he added.

Austria, like Switzerland, has so far refused to close its ski resorts over the holidays. However, by imposing a ten-day quarantine on travellers from high-risk areas, Austria intends to seriously limit tourism during this period.

This is to prevent the virus being carried into the country by returning Austrians or tourists, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday.

Germany has considered Switzerland a risk area since October 24. Accordingly, returnees have to go into quarantine for ten days.

The President of the Italian Health Council, Franco Locatelli, has said that Switzerland’s decision to keep ski resorts open was disappointing. He told La Stampa that he hoped Swiss ski resorts would shut by the end of the year. If not, he said he would call for a quarantine for people returning to Italy.

In the past few days Simonetta Sommaruga, who holds the rotating Swiss presidency this year, has been trying to find a solution to the problem and has held talks with Castex and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte among others.

On Thursday, Interior Minister Alain Berset, who is also in charge of health affairs, told a press conference that “Switzerland does not react to pressure from other countries” in taking such decisions. However, he also said that should another wave of infections spread across Europe, and should some people blame it on Switzerland, it could be damaging for the country's reputation.

Bone of contention

Not making their job any easier is an alliance of centrist parties which on Wednesday called on the government not to impose drastic measures on ski resorts and mountain regions over the festive season. A declaration to this effect was then accepted by parliament on Thursday.

Representatives of all the main tourism organisations and regions warned the government to be careful regarding new coronavirus measures in mountain regions. The government should leave the leadership to the affected cantons, they said.

The bone of contention is a draft ordinance which the government sent to the cantons and other relevant parties for consultation a few days ago. According to this draft, Swiss ski resorts are to remain open in principle. However, in order to avoid large crowds, measures such as capacity restrictions or early closing for restaurants and bars should apply.

‘Economy is too important’

For their part, ski resorts are ploughing ahead with preparations for the year-end holiday season despite pressure from their neighbours to shut until the latest coronavirus wave passes.

Health Minister Alain Berset has proposed limits on the capacity of ski lifts at Christmas and the New Year, but lift operators and mountain regions who already expect many foreign visitors to stay away during the festive period bristle at added restrictions.

Eloi Rossier, mayor of Bagnes below the Swiss ski resort of Verbier, acknowledged feeling the heat from other countries, but said that his town’s ski economy was too important to simply call off the season, especially given measures the resort was taking to keep people safe.

He expects up to 45,000 people over Christmas and New Year, fewer than normal due to a lot of cancellations.

“There’s an economic aspect that we can’t deny. It’s extremely important,” Rossier said. “But it’s not skiing that’s dangerous for transmitting the virus, but the stuff that comes after skiing, the après-ski. And here we have taken extremely strict measures to limit […] the risks.”

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