The Austrian government authorized, this Thursday, the opening of its 400 ski resorts while a third confinement to fight against the coronavirus pandemic is to begin on Saturday.
In early December, the government announced it would allow stations to open on December 24 and it stuck to that decision despite the announcement of a third lockdown last week. Skiing, being an outdoor sport, can be practiced safely if sufficient precautions are taken, the Austrian authorities said.
Access reserved for premises
However, hotels, bars and restaurants remain closed, thus limiting access to the slopes to locals, while the lockdown will also force the country’s businesses and much of its service industry to close until mid- January. “This is a first step and we hope that we can reopen completely soon, as soon as the infection rates allow,” said Andreas Steibl, responsible for tourism at the Ischgl resort recently.
More than 6,000 tourists had been infected with Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic, last March, in the village of Ischgl which, like most other Austrian ski resorts, attracts tens of thousands of skiers each year. The ski industry accounts for almost 3% of Austria’s GDP and is also well established in the political sphere. For example, the head of the Association of Cable Car Operators also sits in parliament for the center-right People’s Party (OeVP) under Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. In the western province of Tyrol, skiing is one of the main economic drivers, with six million skiers flocking there normally each year – roughly eight times the local population.
Without tourists, many resorts believe that maintaining the slopes and operating ski lifts would not be economically viable, and some, like Ischgl, choose to open only a small part of their cable car and lift network. mechanical. Following last season, shortened by the pandemic, resorts have invested millions of euros in disinfection devices for cable cars, masks for skiers and apps that make it easier to dispatch skiers to avoid crowds.
Ischgl announced that he had invested 700,000 euros for anti-Covid-19 security measures. The station now has its own test centers, a laboratory and monitors wastewater for traces of the virus. Austria’s neighbor, Switzerland has allowed some of its stations to open, but the industry has been hit hard by the quarantine measures imposed on British visitors, who constitute a large part of its clientele, as well as by the ban on flights from the UK.