“We cannot afford indiscriminate ski holidays,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Monday night. “Everything to do with skiing holidays is uncontrollable.”
But northern Italian regions are pushing for permission to reopen ski resorts with extra safety measures in place, saying that local businesses stand to lose millions of euros if they miss out on the Christmas season.
Speaking to TV channel La7, Conte said that while he hoped travel between regions would be re-allowed by Christmas, the government was determined to avoid a repeat of the summer when multiple new Covid clusters were linked to holiday hotspots in Italy and abroad.
The Italian prime minister said that he was discussing taking a coordinated approach with other European countries, and on Tuesday confirmed that he had talked about “European coordination of health measures on Covid-19 during the Christmas holidays” with President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen (though her spokesperson later said they had not specifically discussed closing ski resorts).
Very good exchange of views today with @vonderleyen about #GlobalHealthSummit in connection with G20, European coordination of health measures on #Covid19 during the Christmas holidays, more effective European action on the external dimension of migration and Brexit. pic.twitter.com/5pnP8YxD6V
— Giuseppe Conte (@GiuseppeConteIT) November 24, 2020
“We would like there to be European coordination, because closing Arabba or Cortina while people are peacefully skiing down the other side of the mountain would be difficult to justify,” said the governor of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, calling a season without winter sports “suicide” for mountain areas.
France and Austria are still deciding whether to allow winter resorts to reopen next month, with the French government promising to “be as consistent as possible with our neighbouring countries”. Meanwhile Austrian ministers have indicated they are determined to allow this year's season to go ahead, despite a super-spreading outbreak at Austria's Ischgl ski resort back in March.
The German state of Bavaria has already pledged to keep its own slopes shut over Christmas, while the government has warned citizens against travelling abroad to ski.
Meanwhile in Switzerland the ski season is already underway, albeit with mandatory face masks and social distancing.
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Italy's Alpine regions, several of which are currently designated high-risk zones with only essential travel in or out, have proposed reopening to tourists with measures similar to those in place in Swiss ski resorts.
In a proposal submitted earlier this week, representatives from the regions of Valle d’Aosta, Piedmont, Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia laid out guidelines for an anti-Covid ski season, including mandatory face masks and social distancing, caps on the number of ski passes issued per day, cable cars running at half their capacity and table service only at bars and restaurants serving après-ski food and drinks.
But the final decision lies with the national government, which is due to revise its coronavirus restrictions in a new emergency decree on December 4th.
“For now the conditions are not right” for a new ski season, said Regional Affairs Minister Francesco Boccia after meeting with regional representatives this week. “We'll evaluate in the next decree what the conditions are right for and how and when to do it.”
Resorts in the Italian Alps would usually be preparing to open in early December, though amid Italy's second wave they may be forced to postpone the start of the season until January or even later.
Christmas and New Year typically accounts for around a third of the Italian ski sector's annual revenues, according to industry estimates, with snow tourism worth billions of euros and hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The sector had already taken a hit when last year's season was cut short by the outbreak of the pandemic in Europe, and was bracing for another difficult winter amid Italy's ongoing ban on tourism from outside the EU.