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Neighbors criticize Swiss skiing decision in fight against pandemic

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-12-04 09:24
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A snow-covered gondola hanging on a pole outside the Hotel "Le Telecabine" in La Chapelle-d'Abondance, France, a few kilometers from neighboring Switzerland with its ski resorts open despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The French government plans to introduce a seven-day isolation period for French people who go skiing abroad during the holidays. [FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP]

French Prime Minister Jean Castex says random border controls will be introduced to stop people traveling to neighboring Switzerland to ski this winter, to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Skiing, and more specifically the travel and apres-ski socializing, have been identified as contributors to the initial spread of the virus in Europe earlier this year.

France, Germany and Italy have decided to shut their resorts this Christmas, with France hoping to reopen towards the end of January, but Switzerland is staying open, a decision which has proved sharply divisive.

"The goal is to avoid French citizens getting contaminated. That will be done by performing random checks at the borders," Castex said on national television.

The President of the Italian Health Council, Franco Locatelli, called the Swiss decision "disappointing" and said if necessary, people returning to Italy from Switzerland may have to be placed in quarantine.

There has been anger in ski resorts on the border between France and Switzerland. In the French town of Chatel, the town hall has been fl ying the Swiss fl ag in protest at what major Nicolas Rubin told local radio was the government's failure to consult locals about the decision.

"We've got a problem with the French government which shuts the slopes a month before Christmas while our Swiss neighbors keep theirs open," he told French radio.

Over the last seven days, Switzerland has seen a surge in cases, with a reported 310 cases per 100,000 of population. By contrast, in Italy the figure is 281, in Germany it is 148 and France, 116.

One of the most popular Swiss resorts, Verbier, is expecting 45,000 visitors for new year. Eloi Rossier, mayor of the municipality of Bagnes, in which it is situated, admitted there was an "extremely important" and "undeniable" economic aspect to the decision to stay open, but he was confident risks could be minimized.

"It's not skiing that's dangerous for transmitting the virus, but the stuff that comes after skiing, the apres-ski," he said. "Here we have taken extremely strict measures to limit the risks."

One of the most significant outbreaks at the start of the pandemic early in 2020 occurred at the Austrian resort of Ischgl, where it is believed skiers from up to 45 countries may have been infected. In September, a consumer group launched legal action against the Austrian government over the outbreaks at resorts in the western Tyrol.

This Christmas, Austria will allow skiing to take place but only in limited numbers, and with anyone coming from abroad having to spend time in quarantine.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he hoped it would be possible "for a large part of our population to go skiing at least for the day".

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