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‘Huge economic damage’: Italian ski resorts fear closure until mid-January

Business owners who rely on the ski season in Italy insist they could reopen safely, as the government looks set to keep the slopes closed over Christmas.

'Huge economic damage': Italian ski resorts fear closure until mid-January
Owners of businesses in Italy's ski resort areas fear further economic damage. All photos: Marco Bertorello/AFP
With their sports shops, hotels and restaurants closed due to coronavirus restrictions, Italy's main ski resorts already resemble ghost towns. And hope of reopening for Christmas is fading fast.
 
 
As the Italian government pepares to release a new set of coronavirus restrictions covering the month of December including Christmas, ministers have indicated that ski resorts won't be allowed to reopen until mid-January.
 
While the rules have not yet been officially confirmed, Minister for Regional Affairs Francesco Boccia said on Thursday: “The ski lifts and winter vacation system that is critical to our economy will reopen when the epidemic has cooled, hopefully within a month, a month and a half.”
 
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has been pushing this week for neighbouring countries to follow suit, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for all EU ski resorts to be closed until January 10th.
 
 
The Italian government may also require Italian residents who travel abroad over Christmas to quarantine for 14 days on their return, a move which would be sure to make trips impossible for many.
 
 
Boccia stressed that financial support “will be guaranteed for all businesses that will not be able to open”.
 
 
But amid the uncertainty, business owners fear for the future.
 
In the alpine village of Sestriere, one of the hosts of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games, Giovanni Brasso normally employs 350 full-time staff in his ski lift operating company.
 
But he fears that if they do not open for Christmas, they may not reopen at all this season.
 
 
“We take 45 percent of all the season's revenue over the Christmas holiday. If you take that away, we can't go on,” he told AFP.
 
“I am very bitter because I'm convinced the ski stations could reopen safely, by taking the necessary measures,” like they do in Switzerland.
 
He said they could work with Italian police to ensure skiers wear masks and keep their distance from each other.
 
'Very pessimistic'
 
The industry is still recovering from the abrupt end to last year's season caused when coronavirus swept Italy, sparking a national lockdown.
 
At the Lago Losetta hotel, on the edge of a little lake of the same name, owner Gianfranco Martin says closing until January 10 would be “a disaster”,
losing him 60 percent of his annual turnover.
 
“We are very concerned, and very pessimistic,” said Martin, himself an Olympic silver medallist.
 
Sestriere is also suffering from a lack of snow, a problem that could be, and has been in the past, resolved with cannons firing artificial snow.
 
But at a cost of 500,000 euros ($590,000), according to Martin, it would be a major investment with no guarantee of a return.
 
 
Apres-ski is also an attraction of a holiday on the slopes, but all that has stopped with new restrictions against Covid-19, which has surged again, taking Italy's death toll past 50,000.
 
Massimo Fontana, whose Igloo bar and restaurant is a popular spot, with big wooden tables and fur-covered stools overlooking the pistes, is trying to stay
upbeat.
 
“From an economic viewpoint, it's a horrifying loss. But if we want to get out of this situation (the pandemic), we have to find a compromise,” he said.
 
 
Merkel's call for a Europe-wide solution might be better than a country-by-country approach, he said. “We might receive some support.”
 
Some 200 kilometres north, still in the restricted “red” zone, the village of Cervinia has been allowed to keep some of its slopes and ski lifts open for athletes – one of the few to do so in Europe.
 
Professional skiers are allowed to practice at Cervinia. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP
 
This partial reopening involves “a big economic sacrifice”, based of the expectation of business as usual over Christmas, said Matteo Zanetti, who runs the local ski lift company.
 
Closing over the holidays would require “significant support” from the government, he said. “The economic damage would be huge.”
 
Erjon Tola, an Albanian Olympic athlete who is also a ski instructor, is already finding it tough.
 
For two months during the spring, he earned nothing, living on 600 euros a month in government hand-outs. “It's a critical situation,” he said.
 
“It's so unfair that we're closed,” added Gianlorenzo Vaudagnotto, who runs two ski shops.
 
“Skiing is not like being in a nightclub – you're alone, and in the fresh air. And by managing the situation properly, we could all be open.”
 
He said one of the hardest things was not knowing: “We wait, we've got nothing to do.”

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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