Italy seeks European consensus to keep ski resorts closed

Some skiers at the Alpine resort in Verbier, Switzerland wear masks as they queue for the ski lift. Resorts in Italy and France are set to stay shut.
Some skiers at the Alpine resort in Verbier, Switzerland wear masks as they queue for the ski lift. Resorts in Italy and France are set to stay shut.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ROME • Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has warned Italians not to ski during the Christmas holidays to help curb a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 50,000 people in the country.

He also called on other European countries to agree on common rules for the sector to prevent cases being imported from abroad if Italy keeps its slopes closed.

Italy's ski resorts earn annual revenues of about €11 billion (S$17.6 billion), a third of which comes from the days Italians usually spend in the Alps and Dolomites during the Christmas and New Year break.

But Mr Conte said that authorities "cannot afford to allow holidays on the snow" this year.

To try to reopen the pistes, Italy's ski resort regions have drafted restrictions on the number of passengers that could be carried by ski lifts and on daily ski passes sold - but they still need government approval, which is not forthcoming.

"The protocol is one thing, but everything that revolves around holidays on snow is uncontrollable," Mr Conte told La7 TV channel.

However, president of the Italian lift association Valeria Ghezzi has warned the industry may go under if the slopes remain empty, telling Reuters: "Mr Conte should remember, an economy that supports entire mountain communities is at risk."

Italy borders the Alps alongside Austria, France, Slovenia and Switzerland.

Mr Conte said he had held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel over a "common European protocol", adding: "It is a European problem. 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."

Mr Macron is in agreement, saying on French TV that the country's popular ski resorts will not be allowed to reopen in time for the year-end holiday season as the risks are making it "impossible" for activities to resume.

Likewise, Markus Soder, the Premier of the state of Bavaria in Germany, plans to keep its Alpine slopes shuttered throughout the Christmas period.

According to Italian daily La Repubblica, Mr Conte wants a deal with cross-border countries to keep cable cars and ski lifts closed until at least Jan 10 and Mr Macron also favours a reopening in January "under favourable conditions".

However, Austria, where thousands at the ski resort of Ischgl were infected in the biggest cluster during the first wave of the pandemic, is lukewarm about closing.

"If the European Union does in fact force skiing areas to stay closed, that will mean costs of up to €2 billion. If that is what the EU really wants, it will also have to pay for it," Austria's Finance Minister Gernot Blumel said.

Poland will also keep its slopes open this winter but only for locals, its government confirmed.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2020, with the headline 'Italy seeks European consensus to keep ski resorts closed'. Subscribe