Ski resorts, hotels and restaurants in Poland have announced they will reopen next week, despite national lockdown restrictions banning them from doing so.
Earlier this week Poland extended the nationwide closure of tourism businesses until the end of February, a decision that has sparked outrage among the Tatra mountain communities in the south of the country.
“We will end this madness... which wants to destroy Poland and Polishness, destroy the middle class, small and medium-sized enterprises and kill several hundred people a day,” said Sebastian Piton, who started the ‘Highlanders’ Veto’ movement. He addressed journalists at a press conference whilst clad in traditional Tatra mountain dress.
Roughly 200 businesses have reportedly joined the movement and plans are expected to be revealed tomorrow about the intended reopening of resorts.
“The entrepreneurs are this determined because they realise they won't survive another month – so they have no choice,” said Piton. The ski season in Poland usual runs until late April, meaning resorts have a matter of weeks to claw back any business this winter.
“This is our last chance to veto this government policy, which is ruining us.”
The movement has been met by words of warning from the country’s leaders. “I understand the emotions, the situation in this sector is difficult,” said Piotr Muller, a spokesman for the Polish Government.
“But opening now... would radically increase the number of cases and, unfortunately, deaths,” he said. Poland currently has seven-day infection rate of 172 per 100,000 people, with 5,642 new cases and 326 deaths reported on January 12.
The Government has said that 1 billion Zloty (£196 million) will be available to help those impacted by closures – but the likes of Piton are calling the figure “scraps.” Businesses across the nation’s tourism and hotel industries have already filed a lawsuit over the restrictions, demanding compensation.
“I hope our action... will make all of central Europe get off this crazy train which is heading for destruction,” he said.
The closure of ski resorts has sparked debate across Europe in recent months. It began before Christmas when Italy was first to close all of its resorts – followed by France, where lifts are still shut. Resorts in Austria were closed until Christmas Eve, after which only locals could visit – likewise in Andorra, Spain and Norway.
Switzerland bucked the trend and allowed its resorts to reopen to non-residents, and stay open, as planned – but Britons are currently banned from entering the country.
Poland’s Eastern European cousins have reopened their ski resorts recently, with varying levels of success. Lifts are turning in Bulgaria, home to some of the region’s most popular ski resorts. Slovakia had a short run of it: its resorts reopened in December, before being shut again due to new lockdown restrictions and rising cases in the new year. Meanwhile, the slopes in Slovenia also stand empty.
Zakopane is the main ski resort in Poland, situated at the foot of the Tatra Mountains along the Slovak border. “The Polish Government has decided that the ski slopes, hotels and restaurants will be closed until January 31, 2021,” read a statement from the resort on social media. “The inhabitants of Zakopane do not agree with this decision, because the number of Covid-19 cases has dropped significantly in Poland in recent weeks. In more than 85 per cent, the inhabitants of Zakopane live from tourism, mainly in the winter, and now they have to fight for the survival and livelihood of their families. This is a real drama for the inhabitants of Zakopane.”
Ski resorts won’t be the first to bend the rules in Poland. In the city of Szczecin, the owner of an ice rink decided to operate the rink as a flower shop to get around the restrictions.