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Switzerland Under Pressure to Increase Covid-19 Measures and Shut Ski Resorts

It is keeping the ski resorts open as fellow alpine nations close theirs and try to prevent their citizens from visiting the Swiss Alps. If there is a serious outbreak or hospitals become overrun there could be long-term consequences.

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France, Germany and Italy are trying to stop their skiers going to Switzerland and then returning home.

Advice against travel is offered and quarantine measures have been put in place by France and Germany.

The President of the Italian Health Council, Franco Locatelli, has said that Switzerland’s decision to keep ski resorts open was “disappointing”.

He said that he hoped Swiss ski resorts would shut by the end of the year.

If not, he said he would call for a quarantine for people returning to Italy.

Austria is advising its citizens against all ‘foreign travel’ over Xmas and the New Year and has also imposed quarantine.

Switzerland is rapidly, and rather oddly, becoming something of a pariah nation in the Alps.

Switzerland has seen a surge in cases and currently has 310 reported cases per 100,000 of population over a 7-day period.

For comparison Italy is at 281, UK 153, Germany 148 and France 116.

However, the Swiss current weekly average is down 11% on the previous week – the numbers are moving in the right direction.

Despite the welcome fall federal health officials say it is “no reason to relax”.

The situation is described as “tense”.

Its second wave is worse that its first wave in many parts of the country.

Several ski resorts are already open including Saas-Fee, Zermatt, Engleberg, Davos/Klosters, Laax and Verbier.

Many more are set to follow with an influx of skiers and snowboarders.

Verbier, Switzerland

Verbier, Switzerland

Switzerland has drawn up a revised plan to try to keep infections under control that is now being discussed by the various authorities.

There are already tight anti-coronavirus restrictions in terms of social distancing, mandatory wearing of masks and many other measures.

Facemasks in Verbier

Facemasks in Verbier

Now the cantonal authorities are discussing reducing the total number of skiers allowed on the slopes of ski resorts.

The first is a restriction of guest numbers to two-thirds of the number in the same ski resort on the best-visited day of the previous year.

The number of skiers and snowboarders could also be capped at 80% of the average attendance over Christmas across the past five years.

Even so the resort of Verbier still says it is expecting 45,000 visitors for its notorious New Year Celebrations.

“There’s an economic aspect that we can’t deny. It’s extremely important,” said Eloi Rossier, mayor of Bagnes where Verbier is situated.

“But it’s not skiing that’s dangerous for transmitting the virus, but the stuff that comes after skiing, the après-ski. And here we have taken extremely strict measures to limit the risks.”

Perhaps most significantly the cantons may also need to provide evidence that there are sufficient beds in their local hospitals and medical centres to deal with any surge in infections.

Hospital intensive care beds are already reported to be nearing capacity, but most hospitals still have spare beds.

There are some medical voices issuing concern and warnings, especially when ski injuries are added into the mix.

It is perhaps a high-risk strategy and the authorities have given the proposed new measures the motto “avoiding a second Ischgl”.

The Austrian resort has become known as a super-spreader from back in March, but many of the errors made were done without the benefit of knowledge, and no-one knew quite how the pandemic spread or how it would develop.

Ischgl has been rather unfairly labelled in our view at PlanetSKI.

Ischgl, Austria

Ischgl, Austria

If a similar situation happened from a Swiss resort this winter then there would be no excuse.

There are now some concerns that if, and it is a very big if, the opening of ski resorts contributes to the spread of Covid-19 then some believe the Swiss could come to regret its current position.

Just ask Ischgl.

The Swiss cantons have much local power and they mostly wish to keep the ski resorts open for their economic reasons and a genuine belief that their restrictions and rules are more than sufficient.

The Federal government in Bern has the authority to close resorts, but is wary of pushing the button and will likely pursue the policy of further restrictions with cantonal agreement.

Switzerland is not in the EU, but it is far more closely aligned than many people think and it is coming under pressure at the very highest levels.

The Swiss President, Simonetta Sommaruga, has been trying to find a solution to the problem.

She has held talks in recent days with the French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, and Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, among others.

The Swiss resorts seem to want to minimise restrictions with a decision on whether to impose further limits on visitors expected on Friday.

Federal authorities will undoubtedly want further measures, but will probably not push for them quite yet.

Pressure is mounting.

Watch this space…

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