The World Health Organisation has urged nations to carefully consider the risks of the upcoming ski season
A week after he said it would be “impossible” for ski resorts to open before Christmas, French President Emmanuel Macron has revealed that France will impose restrictions to stop people travelling abroad to ski this festive season.
“If there are countries, within or outside the EU, that keep their ski resorts open, we’ll put in place control measures to deter our citizens from going to areas where we think there is a risk of infection,” Macron told a news conference on Tuesday.
“We also want to avoid creating an unbalanced situation with resorts in France, Italy and Germany likely to close while others open,” he said.
During an interview on French radio this morning prime minister Jean Castex confirmed “random border controls” will be in place to deter skiers from travelling. He also discussed the potential of testing and a seven-day quarantine for those that look to foreign slopes to bypass closures in France.
Macron described the measures as “restrictive and dissuasive,” with details to be “fine-tuned in the coming days.”
Regarding the closure of resorts, Macron’s comments last week were somewhat premature. On Thursday, Castex confirmed resorts will be allowed to open at Christmas however ski lifts will remain shut until after the New Year – effectively meaning skiing is off the festive menu in France.
The row over whether ski resorts in Europe should be allowed to reopen before Christmas began early last week, when Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte called for a continent-wide ban. While the likes of France and Germany are in support of the idea, resorts in Switzerland have already begun to open and Austria is pushing ahead to reopen its slopes in time for Christmas, after its national lockdown ends – stressing the financial impact of remaining closed would be devastating.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) urged nations on Monday to carefully consider the risks of the upcoming ski season. While it stopped short of specific recommendations for snow sports it continues to advise against unnecessary holidays, saying alpine nations should take a “risk-based approach” when deciding if to open ski resorts.
On a call with reporters Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergency expert, stressed how ski holidays go far beyond just the physical activity of skiing. “Many people won’t be infected barrelling down the slopes on their skis. The real issues are going to come at airports, on buses, on ski lifts – pinch points in the skiing experience where people come together in large numbers,” he said.
In their defence ski resorts are keen to highlight the extensive work that has gone into making the ski holiday experience Covid-secure, with thorough sanitisation processes, face masks and social distancing all part of the new rules.
The news of plans for border controls for the French comes as protests continue in the country’s resorts over the Christmas closures. On Monday over 300 protestors, including ski instructors and shopkeepers, were out in force in Megève. “Do not destroy our jobs” read one sign – two thirds of hotels in the resorts have announced they will have to remain closed until January.
The French were also out in force in Les Deux Alpe and neighbouring Alpe d’Huez – “We will not give up,” read a statement from the resort.
A major demonstration is due at Bourg Saint Maurice train station this morning, organised by Yannick Amet, president of the Community of Communes, and his fellow mayors in the Haute Tarentaise region, which includes resorts such as Courchevel, Tignes and La Plagne.
“Our hope has been stopped dead! This sudden and brutal government stance puts the whole community in disarray. The Savoyard mountain people are not in denial or in revolt, but they simply want the government to hear their difficulties,” read a statement from the protest organisers, who are calling on the government for a clear and final reopening date for ski resorts and confirmation of the support that will be offered to fragile mountain economics.
“We will all be present and united, to reaffirm our support for the Community of the inhabitants of our valley. Do not forget us!” continued the statement.
A final decision on when resorts might reopen fully, likely mid-January, is expected by December 11.