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CORONAVIRUS IMPACT ON SKIING & SNOWBOARDING CONTINUES

As we enter another week under the cosh from coronavirus our ever-popular rolling blog continues as we reports on its impact on the world of snowsports.

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Government coronavirus advice

Government coronavirus advice

Here are the earlier rolling blogs if you want to look back at all the relevant developments over the past weeks:

April 12th: Coronavirus impact on skiing and snowboarding

April 5th: Coronavirus impact on snowsports

March 29th: Our rolling blog on the impact of Covid-19 continues

March 23rd: PlanetSKI’s rolling blog on the coronavirus impact on skiing continues

SATURDAY 25TH APRIL

SNOW CANNONS USED TO FIGHT CORONAVIRUS IN ITALY

In Val Gardena in the Dolomites firefighters and sanitation works have been using the area’s snow cannons to disinfect some local villages.

Firefighters filled large tank with hydrogen peroxide and it was then attached to a snow cannon that had been mounted on a truck.

It went through the villages of Santa Cristina and Selva di Val Gardena disinfecting roads, walls, and buildings.

Other ski resorts are looking at the success rate of the measure.

Italy is preparing to ease some of its lockdown measures and part of that is sanitising public places.

ASPEN TO CONTINUE TO GROOM SLOPES FOR UPHILL SKIERS

The resort was due to close its slopes this Sunday but will continue as people still want to carry out the activity.

It falls within the bounds of the coronavirus restrictions in place in Colorado.

Conditions can deteriorate quickly on ungroomed slopes because of the freeze-and-thaw cycle at this time of year.

“We will keep uphilling accessible as long as it is safely possible,” said the resort.

Aspen, Colorado

Aspen, Colorado

FRIDAY 24TH APRIL

AUSTRALIA CLAIMS SOME SUCCESS WITH OPTIMISM GROWING THERE MAY BE SOME SKIING THIS COMING SEASON

Four weeks ago Australia introduced tough social distancing measures – no more than two people could gather and all non-essential services were closed.

It introduced tight exterior and interior border controls

On Friday there were 13 new cases in the whole of Australia.

Covid-19 has killed a total of 79 people.

With some beaches now open in Sydney and the virus seemingly under control there is growing hope there may be some skiing this coming season.

It is due to start at the beginning of June.

See here for an earlier PlanetSKI story:

Australia ski season under threat

Skiing in Australia

Skiing in Australia

ROLLING STONES RELEASE FIRST SINGLE SINCE 2012

The Rolling Stones have released their first new single in eight years, Living In A Ghost Town.

The sparse blues track references the coronavirus crisis, with Sir Mick Jagger singing: “Life was so beautiful, now we all got locked down / Feel like a ghost, living in a ghost town.

In a statement, the band said the track was initially recorded a year ago in LA but was “finished in lockdown”.

“We thought would resonate through the times we’re living in,” Sir Mick said.

 

CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT FILED AGAINST VAIL RESORTS

A class action lawsuit has been filed against Vail Resorts after the early end of the 2019-2020 ski season due to coronavirus.

The Plaintiff, Brian Hunt, claims that Vail Resorts s in the wrong for keeping passholder fees after closing all of their resorts amid the covid-19 outbreak.

Mr Hunt filed the lawsuit “on behalf of all of Defendant’s customers nationwide that purchased annual passes for the 2019-2020 season to Epic Day Passes for the 2019-2020 season who, as of March 25, 2020, had not used up all of the days remaining.”

We have reported on it earlier on PlanetSKI but interest is now rising.

Claims of all members of the proposed case could exceed $5m.

Vail Resorts

Vail Resorts

NORWAY ‘OPENS’ TUNNEL WITH RIBBON CUTTING CEREMONY

This week the country eased some of its restrictions as we reported earlier:

Norway eases more lockdown restrictions

But the restrictions meant the Transport minister, Knut Arild Hareide, had to open a new subsea tunnel to the peninsular city of Stavanger by video link from his office in Oslo.

The minister called it the “first digital road opening in Norway”.

He praised the way people had come up with “creative solutions” to the challenges of the coronavirus  pandemic.

Norway ribbon cutting ceremony

Norway ribbon cutting ceremony

Meanwhile neighbouring Sweden has seen its confirmed cases of Covid-19 jump from 16,004 to 16,755.

The rise was much larger than in recent days, during which Sweden’s Public Health Agency had been cautiously celebrating a flattening of cases.

Its death toll now stands at 2,021 compared to Norway’s 193.

Sweden has a population of 10m and Norway’s is 5m.

Sweden has adopted a herd immunity strategy without a lockdown, that some commentators say has failed.

Skiing finally ends in Sweden

THURSDAY 23RD APRIL

PARK CITY DEALS WITH CORONAVIRUS

The US ski town has released a statement on its response to the pandemic describing how it supports the local community and healhcare workers:

“In the middle of March, Park City, like many ski areas in the USA, was enjoyinhg a very successful ski season.

The annual ‘Spring Break’ holiday was in full swing and the middle weekend of March would see a massive influx of skiers, many from the New York area, Texas and Florida.

However, on March 14th, events moved rapidly as science and data highlighted the growing and potentially lethal danger of Covid-19, and the ski resorts of Park City, with just a few hours notice, closed down the same day.

The shock to the community and town of Park City, as in communities around the world, is ongoing, but the people of Park City have taken initiatives to help themselves, healthworkers and the homeless, both locally and nationwide.

At a local Park City level, almost 50 restaurants have remained open for takeaways and kerbside pick ups, observing social distancing at all times.

Thus, jobs are protected and ‘Parkites’ can still enjoy dishes from their favourite restaurants.

Customers can also buy gift cards for future use.

Park City’s two distilleries, High West, reknown for its high quality whiskies, and Alpine Distilling, with a burgeoning reputation for its gins, have both turned their facilities to producing hand sanitiser for the emergency services.

Rob Sergent, the founder/owner of Alpine Distilling has donated $10, 000 from his own pocket to set up the production line.

Local company Backcountry, purveyor of top quality outdoor clothing and gear, has sent 7,000 facemasks to New York City Department of Homeless Servicess and is selling a limited edition T-shirt, from which all profits will go into manufacturing face masks for hospitals and homeless shelters in New York City and Salt Lake City.

On a local, regional and national level the ‘GooglesForDocs’ campaign has seen over 30,000 donations of ski goggles, old and new,for frontline health workers across the US.

Donations can be sent directly to listed hospitals or left at designated collection points.

Asked whether tinted or clear lenses were acceptable, a spokesperson commented given the acute circumstances, all donations are gratefully received.”

PlanetSKI was skiing in Park City Mountain Resort and skiing in it surrounding ski areas in January last season.

If you want to escape from covid-19 and recall better times then sit back and check out these reports from our editor, James Cove.

Here is his final report that rounded up his various articles with links to each piece:

PlanetSKI in Utah

PlanetSKI in Utah

WE LOOK BACK AT OUT TRIP TO UTAH

Park City is one of the best ski towns in the USA.

Full of character, life and surrounded by some fabulous resorts.

It’s where we were for most of the trip before heading round to Midway to stay at Zermatt Resort for a couple of days.

“Park City is a genuine and authentic ex-mining town with a historic Main Street. It has no fewer than 47 historic buildings,” said the director of sales and marketing, Chad Wassmer, to me.

‘We have Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley on our step, plus there are plenty of other resorts nearby – Alta, Snowbird, Brighton, Solitide and of course Sundance.

“Later this month Park City hosts the annual Sundance Film Festival.”

“But we also have a host of other activities that I know you are trying, James.”

“There’s snowshoeing, cross country skiing, a run on the Olympic bobsled and you can even make your own gin in the distillery on Main Street.”

RYANAIR SAYS IT WILL NOT FLY IF IT HAS TO KEEP MIDDLE SEATS EMPTY

The CEO Michael O’Leary empty seats didn’t ensure safe social distancing and were financially unviable.

easyJet, Emirates and Delta have all said they plan to keep middle seats empty.

But Mr O’Leary said that if the Irish government imposed it as a rule, it would have to pay for the middle seat “or we won’t fly”.

Ryan Air has grounded its entire fleet of aircraft.

“We can’t make money on 66% load factors,” he said the Financial Times.

He said Europe should instead follow Asia and bring in more effective measures, such as forcing people to wear masks on transport and have their temperatures checked at airports.

Ryanair

Ryanair

NEW ZEALAND ON THE MATTERHORN

It is the latest country to have its flag beamed on to the iconic Swiss Mountain.

New Zealand on the Matterhorn

New Zealand on the Matterhorn

EASYJET PUTS EASTER FLIGHTS ON SALE

The airline has put its Easter flights on sale five months earlier than normal.

The flights cover the two-week Easter period, including the school holidays from March 28 to April 18.

EasyJet is planning to operate 39,000 flights over Easter 2021, offering more than 6.7 million seats.

There are 13 routes in total, on sale from Thursday 23rd.

These include the airports that serve the ski resorts in the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Hold bags can be booked for just 99p.

Prices from Gatwick to Geneva (flights only) from March 27th to April 3rd start at £74.98.

Manchester to Geneva is £98.98.

“We know many people’s Easter holiday plans have been disrupted this year and so we’ve taken the decision to put our Easter flights for 2021 on sale early so our customers can either book a new break or, if they are rearranging their travel plans, have even more dates and destinations to choose from,” said the EasyJet chief commercial and planning officer,  Robert Carey.

Easyjet at Innsbruck Airport, Austria

Easyjet at Innsbruck

NORWEGIAN AIR IMPACTED BY CORONAVIRUS

Norwegian Air has announced that four subsidiary companies supplying it with pilots and cabin crew in Sweden and Denmark have filed for bankruptcy.

The move puts nearly 5,000 jobs at risk.

The firm has already cut 85% of its operations, and grounded all but 11 planes in its fleet of 160.

The CEO, Jacob Schram, called the bankruptcies “heartbreaking”.

Norwegian

Norwegian

This week the country of Norway began relaxing some of its tight restrcitions.

See here for that story on PlanetSKI:

Norway eases lockdown restrictions

SKI SOLUTIONS GOES FLEXIBLE

The company is living up to its name in these coronavirus times.

Offering solutions for skiing.

It has launched a new flexible booking policy.

Ski Solutions

Ski Solutions

“We understand that the outbreak of COVID-19 is creating a lot of uncertainty for everyone, not least when it comes to holiday plans,” said Ski Solutions.

“We all want to have a trip to look forward to, but how do we balance that against not knowing exactly what lies ahead over the next few months?

“We are here to reassure you that with Ski Solutions you can book with complete confidence, safe in the knowledge that should you need to change your plans we will be on hand to help find a suitable solution for you.”

  • Reduced low deposit down to £150pp
  • No amendment fees on changes to date or destination up until 11th September 2020
  • Complimentary Haglofs rucksack when you book

The full information can be found here.

“We have been arranging wintersports holidays for over 30 years and are established as the UK’s leading tailor-made ski operator,” added the Ski Solutions MD, Craig Burton.

“Any monies paid to us are 100% financially secure through our ABTA and ATOL schemes of protection. You can book with us with complete confidence.”

Ski Solutions

Ski Solutions

WEDNESDAY 22nd APRIL

SNOW-CAMP IS HOSTING ITS FIRST VIRTUAL ALPINE EVENING.

It takes place on May 5th at 7.30pm and comes with love from ‘CHALET SNOW-CAMP’ direct to your living room.

“The last few weeks have been challenging and daunting for everyone, we’re living in unprecedented times and the future is still so uncertain,” said a statement form Snow-camp.

“But we want to do all we can to bring the Snow-Camp community together for one evening to have fun, share some positive stories and to highlight the incredible difference we have made to so many young people’s lives thanks to our community’s support.”

Snow-Camp Patrons Chemmy Alcott, Graham Bell and Ed Leigh will be hosting the evening.

Snow-Camp hosts

Snow-Camp hosts

Patrons and Ambassadors Jenny Jones, Warren Smith and Frank Gardner will also be attending.

There will be cocktail making, interviews with Snow-Camp young people, a retro ski fancy dress competition and a free-to-enter raffle.

Snow-camp

Snow-camp

The Snow-Camp Alpine Evening is free to attend but the organiser hope that you might be able to make a kind donation during the evening to support the charity’s ongoing work with young people.

See here for the full details.

Snow-camp

Snow-camp

240 MILES ON A CHARITY BALCONY BIKE RIDE

Snoworks instructor, Lee Townend, has been chosen to be one of a team of 80 ‘Virtual’ cyclists to join world record holder @mrmarkbeaumont on Thursday 23rd April , to ride 240 miles each (386km) on their turbo trainers at home.

Lee Townend

Lee Townend

All 80 riders combined miles will equal 18,000 miles, which will take them around the planet in a day, in aid of @nhscharitiestogether.

This is happening at 4am (UK time) tomorrow Thursday April 23rd, and the riders hope to be finished by 8pm in time for Clap for Carers.

See more here as Lee has earlier told us about how he passes his days in Life Under Lockdown. 

He is usually on his bike on the balcony

Lee Townend

Lee Townend

You can help in one of 3 ways:

* Are you able to support Lee on this crazy challenge by sponsoring him a few pounds?

If each of the 80 riders can raise £240 each thats £18,000 for the charity.

You can sponsor him on the Virgingiving page.

Lee will be providing regular updates on Snoworks Insta-story and Snoworks Facebook throughout the day tomorrow, and expects it to take him 15-16hrs of pedalling on the turbo/static bike. #strongskilegs

* Are you able to join in and put in a shift for the @nhs on your tredmill, turbo, rollers, or rowing machine and simple donate £1 per mile?

Whether thats for 15 mins or 15 hours.

Then just post your miles to the social channels @worldin1day with the hashtag #donateyourmiles.

You can find more info on this at www.worldinaday.com

* Share the event far and wide in then next 24 hrs, so the team can try and raise as much money as possible to help out front line workers.

Please get behind Lee and show him your support as this is going to be one hell of a challenge.

Lee Townend

Lee Townend

LIECHTENSTEIN PILOTS CORONAVIRUS BRACELETS

The tiny principality in the heart of the Alps is piloting a programme to fit its citizens with biometric bracelets to track the emergence of potential cases of Covid-19 in real time.

Tomorrow, Thursday 23rd April, one in 20 of the population will be offered the bracelets.

They will send data on skin temperature, breathing rate and heart rate back to a Swiss laboratory for analysis.

In the autumn the bracelets will likely be offered to the whole of the population.

The bracelets for the project will be supplied by Ava, a Swiss medical technology company.

It currently sells them internationally as an aid for women to accurately monitor their fertility cycles.

Other nations will be watching the project with interest.

Liechtenstein is a German-speaking, 25km-long principality between Austria and Switzerland.

SALOMON TO PRODUCE FACE MASKS

The company aims to make 90,000 masks over the next few months.

It responded to a request from the French government as it launched a national appeal to the country’s textile industry.

The masks are certified by the DGA (Direction Général de l’Armement) and will be intended primarily for administrations and industrialists in all sectors of the business community.

“We like to say that, in a normal day, we might make a prototype shoe that helps Kilian Jornet go to the top of Everest in the morning and a sports bra for our running range in the afternoon,” says Jean-Noel Thevenoud, who manages the prototype lab.

“So, this is a different project for us, but the team has been eager to help since the crisis started. When we got the call last week, everyone was ready to go.

“We’ll get back to making outdoor sports gear soon enough, but right now we are very happy to use the skills of the team to help in these times.”

Salomon produces face masks

Salomon produces face masks

TUESDAY 21st APRIL

RYANAIR ‘IGNORING THE LAW ON REFUNDS’

Ryanair has joined the ranks of airlines ignoring the law on refunds for cancelled flights, according to the consumer association, Which?

“The airline was one of only a handful of carriers to include an automatic refund link on its website, albeit one that frequently failed. But it is now telling its customers to either accept a voucher for future travel or wait – potentially for a year or more – to get their money back,” says Which? in an update posted on Monday.

Ryanair has said passengers can request a cash refund but must bear in mind that the request will go into a cash refund queue until the COVID-19 emergency has passed.

ABTA PLEADS FOR UNDERSTANDING OVER REFUNDS WHILE THERE’S PRAISE FOR THE APPROACH OF ONE ACCOMMODATION AGENCY

The head of ABTA has written an open letter to travellers whose trips were disrupted by the coronavirus crisis asking them to support the industry.

The open letter from Mark Tanzer, the Chief Executive of the travel body, is published today in the national press.

“Travel agents and operators are working extremely hard in the most trying of circumstances to do their best for their customers. But many travel companies are unable to provide immediate cash refunds,” he says.

“It’s in nobody’s interests for normally healthy travel businesses to go under. As well as the loss of thousands of jobs, the Government-backed ATOL financial protection scheme would be overwhelmed by a large-scale failure of businesses and it would take many more months for customers to get a refund.”

Last week ABTA published updated information on its website for customers on why delays to refunds for package holidays may be occurring, and on how the system of Refund Credit Notes works.

ABTA asks for travellers’ support

We reported in our earlier article about the efforts of skiers and snowboarders to get their money back and the difficulties facing the ski industry:

Meanwhile, one PlanetSKI reader whose account is told in that article has just told us he has now received a full refund from the French accommodation agency, Cimalpes in Courchevel for his cancelled holiday.

John Hendrick was due to travel to the resort with his family for an Easter ski trip.

Alison Grist, Charlie & John Hendrick

John Hendrick with his partner Alison & their son Charlie

“Right from the point when the French Alps were closed under government instruction I was in touch with Cimalpes who offered practical, friendly, help and guidance via Elodie and Jennifer,” he told us.

“They did ask me to attempt to make a claim via my insurer but were clear that if AXA did not help or refused my claim Cimalpes would refund me – simple as that.

“Following much time wasted waiting for AXA to respond Cimalpes just ’stepped in’ and did refund me.

“Just. Like. That.

“This points to something which I think is special and unique to Cimalpes and deserves great credit: They really do put their customers first.

“Cimalpes were prepared to cut straight through whatever bureaucracy or alternate motive a situation like this made many tour operators & insurers hide behind.

“Cimalpes were also prepared to work with the apartment owners (who also needed to agree – well done & thank you) and help them see the benefit of this pragmatic and more long term approach towards customers.

“Courchevel Moriond will have taken a hit this year because of C19. Maybe a big one. But their recovery is assured because they have ’seeded the future’ already with customers like me who will absolutely definitely be booking with them again.

“Well done and thank you to all involved. Cimalpes ROCKS!!

And below is Mark Tanzer of ABTA’s open letter in full.

Mark Tanzer, CEO ABTA

Mark Tanzer, CEO of ABTA

The coronavirus crisis is creating extraordinary difficulties for everyone, in ways that none of us could ever have predicted.  International travel has been brought to a complete standstill by government measures to contain the pandemic and this has led to hundreds of thousands of holidays being affected.   

Here, I want to write to customers of ABTA Members specifically to explain the current situation with refunds for holidays that aren’t going ahead as planned as a result of the pandemic, and to ask for your support.

Many customers have rebooked their holidays for a future date, but I completely understand why those who have asked for a refund may feel frustrated and concerned at the amount of time it is taking. In normal circumstances the rules to provide a refund for a package holiday within 14 days work well. But these are not normal circumstances and the 14 day refund rule is impossible for the majority of companies to stick to.

Many travel agents and tour operators are unable to provide immediate cash refunds because they have not yet received money back from airlines and hotels around the world that may have temporarily closed.

It’s in nobody’s interests for normally healthy travel businesses to go under. As well as the loss of thousands of jobs, the Government-backed ATOL financial protection scheme would be overwhelmed by a large-scale failure of businesses and it would take many more months for customers to get a refund.

The European Commission, which is responsible for the relevant regulations, has advised Member states to find “flexible solutions” to demands for refunds on cancelled holidays during the crisis.  Many other European countries with similar challenges have already taken action to support businesses while protecting customer rights. 

Despite our pleas for support, the UK Government has so far failed to act.  For this reason, to provide some order to the chaos brought about by the current crisis, ABTA has developed temporary guidelines for dealing with refunds for its Members and their customers, where Members are financially unable to provide an immediate cash refund. These are based on a system of financially-protected Refund Credit Notes where the customer’s fundamental right to a refund for a package holiday is preserved, as set out by law.

This type of system is similar to those introduced in many other countries and is the framework under which ABTA will guide its Members and hold them to account. 

Notwithstanding the issuing of Refund Credit Notes, ABTA’s expectation is that Members should refund customers as soon as they are able to.

This crisis will pass, and I’m sure like me you want to ensure that when it does we have a healthy and competitive travel industry able to provide you with the choice of holidays that you deserve.

Thank you
Mark Tanzer

MONDAY 20th APRIL

HANDFUL OF BEACHES OPEN IN SYDNEY

Most beaches in Sydney, Australia including Bondi beach, remain closed.

Three have just re-opened after being shut under the country’s lockdown rules.

The ski resorts in Australia are due to open at the beginning of June and though no-one thinks things will be normal resorts are hoping for some limited openings this season.

They are watching things closely.

See our earlier story here:

Australia ski season under threat

Exercise is now allowed at the Coogee, Maroubra and Clovelly beaches under  social distancing rules.

3 beaches re-open for exercise only

3 beaches re-open for exercise only

US SKIER DONATES 3,000 FACEMASKS TO LOCAL COMMUNITY

Ainsley Proffit has donated 3,000 facemasks to the local community in St Louis, USA,  in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

She makes them along with her family

She is a member of the US Alpine Ski Team development programme.

She has said they will be distributed to those who request them.

So far this includes Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St Louis, the Chicago Police Department, emergency medics in Seattle plus paediatric doctors and patients.

Proffit’s family owns a small children’s clothing company and her mother came up with the idea of producing the masks.

Ainsley Proffit

Ainsley Proffit

“When she started hearing about the shortages all around, she knew we had to step in,” she  said.

“Together, my mom, dad, and I transitioned the clothing business into mask-making instead – we are cutting and sewing all masks here in St Louis.”

The production of masks continues, with the family planning to keep going until the outbreak has subsided.

SUNDAY 19th APRIL

FEARS GROW OVER JAPAN’S HANDLING OF CORONAVIRUS AS SOME SKIING CONTINUES

Some ski resorts in Hokkaido are open and on the main island too.

It is reported that few people are skiing and there are just a handful of foreigners.

Furano in Hokkaido says it is staying open until May 6th.

Road to Furano

Road to Furano

Others are closing in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and in response to the  state of emergency across Japan.

Niseko Grand Hirafu Resort’s final day of operation is today, Sunday, April 19th, 2020.

“We are sad to end the winter season earlier than planned but we believe this is the most responsible decision,” said a statement from the resort.

Annupuri Ski Resort closed in Friday April 17th.

Niseko, Japan

Niseko, Japan

With the worst snow in decades before the impact of coronavirus it is a season most will wish to forget.

Japan, which initially appeared to have the virus under control, passed 10,000 confirmed cases on Saturday with a total of 10,437.

224  people have now died with Covid-19 and the capital Tokyo remains the worst-affected area.

Doctors have warned that the country’s medical system could collapse amid a wave of new coronavirus cases.

Emergency rooms have been unable to treat some patients with serious health conditions due to the extra burden caused by the virus, officials say.

The Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is being criticised for not introducing restrictions quicker out of a fear they would harm the economy.

The governor of Tokyo wanted tougher measures introduced more quickly.

On Thursday a state of emergency was extended across the whole country.

THIS FROM THE BBC:

It was once seen as something of a success story – a region that worked to contain, trace and isolate the virus – leading to a huge drop in numbers.

But Hokkaido is in the spotlight again as it struggles to deal with a second wave of infections.

In late February, Hokkaido became the first place in Japan to declare a state of emergency due to Covid-19.

Schools were closed, large-scale gatherings cancelled and people “encouraged” to stay at home.

The local government pursued the virus with determination – aggressively tracing and isolating anyone who’d had contact with victims.

The policy worked and by mid-March the number of new cases had fallen back to one or two a day.

On 19 March the state of emergency was lifted, and at the beginning of April, schools re-opened.

But now, just 26 days after the state of emergency was lifted, a new one has had to be imposed.

Hokkaido has acted independently of the central government, which placed Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures under a state of emergency last week.

A nationwide state of emergency was declared on Thursday.

Almost a success story.

In the last week, Hokkaido has recorded 135 new confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Unlike the first outbreak in February, there is no evidence the virus has been re-imported from outside Japan.

None of the new cases are foreigners, nor have any of those infected travelled outside Japan in the last month.

What does this tell us about how the virus outbreak was handled in Hokkaido?

Firstly, if you get on top of it really early, you can get it under control.

“It is relatively easy to tackle clusters, to contact trace and isolate,” says Professor Kenji Shibuya of King’s College London.

“The authorities were quite successful in their cluster control approach. Japan was in the very early phase of the outbreak back then. It was localised and it was a success story.”

In this respect, Hokkaido has some similarity to what happened in the South Korean city of Daegu.

There, a large outbreak in a religious cult was aggressively traced. Those infected were isolated and the outbreak was suppressed.

But the second lesson from Hokkaido is much less reassuring.

After the Daegu outbreak, the South Korean government began a massive testing program to try and track the epidemic.

Japan has done the opposite.

Even now, more than three months after Japan recorded its first case, it is still only testing a tiny percentage of the population.

Initially, the government said it was because large-scale testing was a “waste of resources”.

It’s now had to change its tune a bit and says it will ramp up testing – but several reasons appear to have slowed it down.

Firstly, Japan’s health ministry fears that hospitals will be overwhelmed by people who test positive – but only have minor symptoms.

And on a wider scale, the testing is the responsibility of local health centres and not on a national government level.

Some of these local centres are simply not equipped with the staff or the equipment to deal with testing on a major scale.

Local hotlines have been overwhelmed and even getting a referral from a doctor is a struggle.

The combination of these reasons mean authorities in Japan don’t have a clear idea of how the virus is moving through the population, says Prof Shibuya.

“We are in the middle of an explosive phase of the outbreak,” he said.

“The major lesson to take from Hokkaido is that even if you are successful in the containment the first time around, it’s difficult to isolate and maintain the containment for a long period.

Unless you expand the testing capacity, it’s difficult to identify community transmission and hospital transmission.”

The third lesson is that this “new reality” is going to go on a lot longer than most people expect.

Hokkaido has now had to re-impose the restrictions, though Japan’s version of a Covid-19 “lockdown” is a rather softer than those imposed elsewhere.

Most people are still going to work.

Schools may be closed, but shops and even bars remain open.

Prof Shibuya thinks without tougher measures Japan has little hope of controlling this so called “second wave” of infections now taking place, not just in Hokkaido, but across the country.

“The key lesson” he says “is even if you are successful in containment locally but there is transmission going on in other parts of the country, as long as people are moving around, it’s difficult to maintain a virus-free status”.

Even so, the economy in Hokkaido is already hurting badly.

The island is hugely dependent on tourism, and Japan has banned travel from the US and Europe and most countries in Asia.

A friend who owns a bar in the city of Chitose has been forced to shut it down and lay off his staff.

Further north in the city of Asahikawa, Naoki Tamura told us his bar is still open but there are now almost no customers.

“One or two come by each night,” he says.

“There used to be many tourists from China and South East Asia. They are completely gone. We don’t hear any foreign language spoken on the street now. Smaller lodging places are having to shut down. Tourism businesses are really struggling.”

The new state of emergency is officially due to finish on 6 May, the end of Japan’s “Golden Week” holiday.

But one local government official working on epidemic suppression in Hokkaido told us they may now have to keep measures in place for much longer.

“We feel we have to keep on doing the same thing,” he said. “The goal is to minimise contact between people to stop the spread of the virus.”

So how long does that mean?

“Till we find a vaccine,” he says. “We have to keep on trying to stop the expansion.”

MATTERHORN MISSION OF HOPE & SOLIDARITY CONTINUES

The Swiss resort of Zermatt  is continuing to beam messages of hope and the flags of nations affected by Covid-19 from across the world onto its iconic mountain.

“The population of China had to suffer greatly, now it is on the road to recovery. We send our best wishes!” said the resort.

China on the Matterhorn

China on the Matterhorn

“Many Arab countries suffer from the corona virus. We give hope and strength to the people of the GCC countries and the many expats living there,” said the resort.

Solidarity on the Matterhorn

Solidarity on the Matterhorn

Solidarity on the Matterhorn

Yesterday, Saturday 18th April, in our rolling blog on PlanetSKI we included many more of the beamed images: Coronavirus impact on skiing and snowboarding

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