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Coronavirus: Germany seeks EU-wide ban on ski trips

November 26, 2020

Both Germany and Italy are worried that ski resorts could turn into coronavirus 'super-spreading' hotspots. But Austria is furious with the idea, saying the EU should compensate its industry if such a shutdown is agreed.

Skiers in Austria
Image: imageBROKER/picture alliance

Germany wants to close ski slopes across Europe as part of the fight against coronavirus, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday.

"The ski season is approaching", she told lawmakers in the German Parliament, the Bundestag. "We will try to reach an agreement in Europe on whether we could close all ski resorts."

Merkel's comments came shortly after Berlin extended Germany's partial lockdown until December 20 as coronavirus deaths surpassed more than 15,000.

Many German and foreign holidaymakers flock to the southern Alpine state of Bavaria over the winter break to enjoy its pristine ski slopes.

But Bavaria's State Premier Markus Söder said current infection rates meant "we just can't have the classic ski holidays."

"I would prefer to have a common agreement on a European level: no ski lifts open, no (ski) holidays anywhere," he said. Berlin wants to keep Europeans off the piste until January 10.

European ski resorts are widely believed to have been coronavirus hotspots, helping spread COVID across the continent.

Ski resorts try to navigate the pandemic

Meanwhile, Germany's skiing association DSV urged German politicians to reconsider their plans, pointing to hygiene and distancing measures that have been put in place in recent months.

"A Germany-wide or even a Europe-wide ban on skiing sports would definitely not be the solution, it would be the opposite — it would unnecessarily make the already difficult situation … even more difficult." the association said in a letter, which was also endorsed by German snowboarders.

"Winter sports give people stability, motivation, perspective and they also provide many people with a job," they said.

Who else wants to shut the slopes?

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has already called for an EU-wide shutdown of the continent's ski slopes at a time when Europeans would normally be heading off for their traditional winter break.

"If Italy decided to shut down all its ski lifts without any support from France, Austria and the other countries, then Italian tourists would risk going abroad and taking the contagion back home," he said in an interview earlier this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that his country's ski resorts will stay closed until early next year, angering the Alpine tourist industry.

"The president had perhaps made a precipitous announcement and it is very prejudicial for the economy of the Alps," said Jean-Luc Boch, who leads the national association of mountain stations, known by its French acronym ANMSM.

And who doesn't?

Austria has already rejected the idea of an EU-wide ban. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that skiing was part of his country's "national identity" and that winter holidays would go on, albeit without apres-ski parties.

Finance Minister Gernot Blümel estimates a shutdown would cost Austrian resorts up to €2 billion ($2.4 billion). 

"If that is what the EU really wants, it will also have to pay for it," Blümel said.

Switzerland is not an EU member. Its ski resorts are going to stay open, although police are enforcing anti-COVID measures such as wearing masks and social distancing.

The Swiss industry is hoping for an influx of European tourists over Christmas after Switzerland recently lifted quarantine requirements for people arriving from most of the continent.

"In Switzerland, we can go skiing, with protection plans in place," Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters on Thursday.

What did the EU say?

Brussels suggested that the choice would be left to national governments.

"This is not European competence," said EU Commission spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker on Thursday. "Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to gradual and science-based and effective lifting of the containment measures."

At the same time, De Keersmaecker urged a degree of coordination and warned that "lifting restrictions too early can increase the risk of resurgence" of the virus.

Viewer video: Skiing in Austria

jf/rt (AFP, AP)