Austria set to bow to pressure on Covid risk with ski holiday ban

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Austria’s government appears to have bowed to pressure from Germany, France and Italy and will ban skiing holidays over the Christmas break in an attempt to control the coronavirus pandemic, Austrian media is reporting.

The decision, expected to be officially announced on Wednesday, follows heated disagreements between Berlin and Vienna.

On Tuesday morning, Austria’s tourist minister accused the German government of interfering in its domestic affairs after Angela Merkel said she had wanted a ban on skiing holidays. The chancellor secured the backing of the Italian and French governments as well as the leaders of the 16 German states.

According to initial reports, Austrian resorts, including hotels, restaurants and ski schools will be closed into January. In some resorts, ski lifts are expected to stay open but tourists will be told to stay away.

Merkel said last week she would seek an alliance within Europe to support her efforts for ski resorts to close until the new year at least, amid fears of a repeat of events last winter when Austrian resorts in particular proved to be a breeding ground for the virus.

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She admitted that strong resistance from Austria meant it would be hard to find an “easy solution”.

Elisabeth Köstinger, Austria’s tourism minister, had said in an interview with Bavarian broadcasting that her country had no intention of abiding by any restrictions.

“We will not let another country stipulate when and what we will open,” she said, “just as we would also never offer the suggestion to Germany that it has to, for example, close its schools or hairdressers”.

Köstinger said people had “had an extremely demanding year” and were desperate to “get out of the cities, to relax and enjoy sport” after months of lockdown restrictions. Skiing “should not be turned into a scapegoat” for the virus’s spread, she added.

Switzerland has also been against the closure of resorts, like Austria fearing significant economic harm.

An independent commission found in October that Austrian national and local authorities had made “momentous miscalculations” over their handling of the outbreak last March, leading to possibly tens of thousands of tourists catching the virus and taking it back to their home countries.

Ischgl in the Tirol was highlighted as the biggest hotspot, and identified as the “ground zero” of the first wave of the virus in Europe.

On Monday, the Austrian ski association

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