Next Few Weeks of UK Covid-19 Cases Vital for Ski Season

One scenario sees UK Covid cases remaining stubbornly high and perhaps further nations restricting travel.  Another sees our cases tumbling as we enter a post-pandemic world. Whatever the outcome the next month will have a crucial impact on the season ahead. UPDATED

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The UK has a huge number of cases of Covid-19, one of the highest in Europe.

It has been averaging more than 40,000 new cases per day.

Currently 488 people per 100,000 of population are catching the virus over a 7-day period.

Estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that 1.3 million people in the UK would test positive for coronavirus in the week ending 22 October –  the highest number since records began.

This is 1.9% of the population – or one in 55 people – up from one in 60 last week.

The ONS say the trend for estimated Covid-19 infections increased across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Cases have been falling this week with 295,549 testing positive in the last 7-days, a drop of 9.8%.

A glance at the number of cases in the ski nations of Europe makes one wonder why they would be welcoming skiers and snowboarders from the UK who could then cause their own cases to rise.

Switzerland has 90, Andorra 85, Norway 76, France 54, Sweden 39, Italy 38 and Spain 28.

Austria is perhaps the only comparable alpine country to the UK, though it trails us on 256.

We have already looked at the issue of whether borders may be closed to UK travellers if cases continue to rise:

But it is not quite as simple as that and we will be examining both sides of the debate.

First, the signs of encouragement.

Are international comparisons even valid?

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, one of the scientists behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, has been giving evidence to the Commons’ science and technology this week.

He says it is “not right” to say comparisons with other countries can be made.

The UK’s “very high” number of cases is “partly because of our very high test rate” so it is “important not to bash the UK” with international comparisons.

Germany actually has the highest test positivity rate in Europe.

Of perhaps more interest is that some recent modelling suggest cases in the UK are now starting to fall and this could be the beginning of a sharp reduction.

“There is actually a school of thought that we may be on the brink of seeing infection levels plummet,” said the BBC’s Health Correspondent, Nick Triggle.

“Modelling done for the government suggests cases and deaths could soon start to fall dramatically,” he claimed.

See here for his full report.

The modelling he has been looking at comes from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, LSHTM.

It is just one scientific source that feeds into the government, but its findings are highly interesting for the approaching ski season.

Graph source: BBC

Graph source: BBC

This current wave is mainly affecting children and young teenagers and they have the lowest levels of vaccination.

9% of those in secondary school are estimated to be testing positive in England, compared to 2% among their parents or 1% among other adults.

The figures only go up to last Friday, October 22nd, so don’t include the falls in case numbers during this half-term holiday week.

It is crucial that any significant and lasting reduction is dependent on a number of factors.

These include the vast majority of over-50s coming forward for their boosters, and some cautious behaviour throughout winter when it comes to mixing and socialising.

The government has welcomed the fall, but is cautious to draw conclusions from figures suggesting  that Covid cases could be levelling off.

“It’s too early to draw full conclusions from the case rates and we would continue to urge the public to abide by the guidance as set out and those eligible to get booster doses,” said the Prime Minister’s official spokesman this week

“Prevalence remains relatively high even if it has dropped off to a certain extent.”

All this could have significant consequences for the approaching winter ski season.

“The UK is just under two months ahead of European nations in our unlocking, and so should get past our exit wave first too, as seems to be starting to happen now,” said the MD of SNO, Richard Sinclair.

“Our booster jabs, teenage jabs, and the school half term fire-break are coming together over this and the coming weeks to continue to bring our covid rates down.

“This and the fact that EU govts know the UK tests more, mean we don’t expect to see travel restrictions this winter.

“I would definitely advise anyone with teenagers to hurry and get their first jab, as there’s every chance the government will let them get the second one after 8-12 weeks, so they can all travel without testing like their parents.”

Ski face masks

Ski face masks. Image c/0 PlanetSKI

There is no doubt that demand is high and bookings are up.

Crystal Ski’s first TUI first charter flight to Turin in Italy on December 16th is full.

I know because I was due to be on it as I am planning to ski in Cervinia in the Aosta Valley for a few days.

I have to find another route to go skiing in Cervinia as the seat allocated to PlanetSKI is needed for Crystal customers.

PlanetSKI is also in Les2Alpes that weekend and the resort is full, though our chief reporter, Jane Peel, has been able to find a bed.

But what about a more pessimistic scenario?

Some say the forecasts of a potential fall in cases seems at odds with what is actually happening at the moment in the UK and the government needs to introduce the so-called Plan B measures with immediate effect.

Otherwise cases will continue to be high.

These could include mandatory face coverings in indoor spaces and working from home.

It could lead to a significant reduction in the “unacceptable” number of Covid-19 cases in the UK, said Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag).

He said the level of infections in England  is an “astonishingly high rate” compared with other western European countries.

Some fear restrictions on travellers from the UK may be introduced shortly.

Morocco has already banned flights to and from the UK and other countries are watching our cases closely.

Flights between Morocco and Germany and the Netherlands have also been suspended.

“This demonstrates how international travel remains unpredictable,” said the editor of Which? Travel, Rory Boland, as Morocco made its decision.

Some alpine countries have low levels of vaccination rates and are therefore more vulnerable – Switzerland is at 66% and Austria 72%.

In France vaccination rates for adults are at 85% and in Italy it is 78%.

A number of factors may explain why cases are so high in the UK:

  • Less mask wearing
  • More social and work mixing
  • People’s immunity waning
  • Slow roll out of boosters
  • Vaccine rollout for the first two doses has stalled

The start of the main 2021/22 ski season is still over a month away so all the figures will change, but the authorities are watching the numbers very closely.

So too are UK skiers and snowboarders, the snowsports industry and the ski resorts.

Related Stories:

Main image c/o Ski Solutions

Image © PlanetSKI


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