SAM Magazine—Vienna, Austria, Nov. 2, 2020—In an effort to slow rapidly-spreading novel coronavirus cases in Austria, the government there announced on Oct. 31 a nationwide partial lockdown beginning Nov. 3 for at least the rest of the month. As a result, the eight glacier ski resorts that are currently open in Austria—reportedly enjoying excellent early-season conditions—will close to the general public starting tomorrow. All open Austrian resorts have been operating with COVID-19 safety measures in place.
Ski area openings scheduled for November have been postponed to December. Professional ski teams will still be able to train, though. A handful of currently open ski areas, including Kaunertal and Pitztal in the Tyrol, will be open as training sites.
The partial lockdown was enacted as the number of positive COVID cases in Austria has surged along with the percentage of tests that come back positive—the latter jumping from about 5 percent a month ago to more than 17 percent today. Tyrol and Salzburg, where a majority of the nation’s ski resorts are located, are now seeing around a 20-percent positive test rate. Austria’s daily cases went from 1,774 on Oct. 17 to a record 5,627 on Oct. 30.
Austria’s ski resorts made news early on in the pandemic when the Austrian government was slow to react to outbreaks at Ischgl and nearby St. Anton resorts in early March. According to the results of an official investigation released in mid-October, the Ischgl outbreak was linked to cases in 45 countries after skiers and riders brought the virus home with them. Several lawsuits have been filed against the Austrian government over the outbreaks, which have been linked to thousands of cases and more than 30 deaths.
With the latest restrictions, it appears as though Austria wants to avoid a repeat of that situation. In neighboring Switzerland, however, where COVID-19 infections are rising even faster, Verbier celebrated its opening day on Oct. 30. The resort has several COVID safety measures in place, including mask wearing and social distancing.
The Swiss government implemented increased restrictions last week, such as limiting public gatherings to 50 people or less, and banning sporting and cultural activities with more than 15 people. Ski resorts were not included in the new restrictions. The government said it will refrain from expanding measures in order to support business after concluding existing programs are sufficient to soften the pandemic's blow, according to reports.