France will carry out random border checks over the holiday season targeting French skiers on their way to and from foreign resorts – particularly Switzerland and Spain – where slopes stay open, the prime minister, Jean Castex, has said.
“The goal is to avoid French citizens getting contaminated. That will be done by performing random checks at the borders,” Castex told French television, adding that returning holidaymakers would be ordered to quarantine for seven days.
While Alpine resorts in France will technically be open over Christmas, ski lifts and other essential winter sports infrastructure, as well as bars and restaurants, will not as the country strives to avoid fuelling a third wave of the coronavirus.
Italy and Germany share the French position and have indicated, to the fury of many local businesses, that their pistes will remain in effect closed over the Christmas and new year periods, which can account for up to 20% of some resorts’ income.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, last week joined Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in calling for a Europe-wide shutdown of winter sports until 10 January.
Coronavirus clusters in Alpine resorts such as Austria’s Ischgl played a key role in the spread of the virus during the first wave of the pandemic earlier this year, with holidaymakers bringing Covid-19 back home following ski trips abroad.
Austria also said on Wednesday that while skiing could resume on 24 December, lift capacity would be limited, bars, restaurants, and hotels would remain largely closed until January, and people entering the country from abroad would have to quarantine.
The measures in effect mean skiiing will only be possible over the holiday season for locals who live close to the slopes. The chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said it should be possible “for a large part of our population to go skiing at least for the day”.
Conte asked Italians not to take to the slopes at all during the Christmas holidays, and called on all other European countries with major winter sports sectors to agree common rules to prevent cases being imported if Italy’s pistes stayed closed.
“It will not be possible to allow winter sports holidays this year, we cannot afford it,” the Italian prime minister said, arguing that despite a strict safety protocol devised by operators, “everything revolving around holidays on the snow is uncontrollable”.
Switzerland and Spain, however, have so far proved reluctant to impose restrictions. The Swiss interior minister, Alain Berset, said last week the country was “autonomous. We can decide for ourselves whether we leave ski areas open. But we know what’s at stake.”
The Swiss government is expected to formally announce its position on limiting foreign visitors on Friday, while the Spanish government is still consulting with its autonomous regions on what measures to take.
Castex said on Wednesday that Switzerland and Spain were “not thus far falling into line”, but that “diplomatic action is continuing – the die has not been completely cast”. He said he would continue “to protect my fellow citizens by preventing them from going to contaminate themselves”, adding that the French measures were also “about being fair to French resort managers”.
One French resort, Châtel in the Franco-Swiss Portes du Soleil ski area, has draped Swiss flags around the village in protest against France’s stance. “We’ve got a problem with a French government that shuts the slopes a month before Christmas while our Swiss neighbours keep theirs open,” the mayor, Nicolas Rubin, said.
Macron had indicated on Tuesday that the French government was considering taking “restrictive and dissuasive measures” to prevent the French from going abroad to ski, especially in Switzerland, over the holiday period.
The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief, Michael Ryan, said this week that the risk of catching Covid-19 while actually skiing was minimal. “I suspect many people won’t be infected barrelling down the slopes on their skis,” he said.
But he said the real risks “are going to come at airports, tour buses taking people to and from ski resorts, ski lifts … and places where people come together”. The WHO was advising all countries to “look at their ski season”, he said, warning that indoor socialising after skiing might pose a particular threat.