‘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
“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 face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”