French government confirms ski lifts to stay closed but says holidays ‘possible’

Ski lifts in France will remain closed throughout February, the French government has confirmed, but the secretary of state for tourism has said "it is still possible" to go on holiday despite high infection levels that have pushed France to the verge of a third lockdown.

French government confirms ski lifts to stay closed but says holidays 'possible'
Avid skiers will have to do without help from ski lifts if they head for the mountains this month. Photo: AFP

Ski holiday resorts in France will not be able to operate their ski lifts during the upcoming February school holidays as hoped, with no date envisioned for when they may get back in business, the government has confirmed.

“The evolution of the health situation does not permit us, at this stage, to reopen the ski lifts,” Prime Minister Jean Castex's office announced on Monday evening, following a meeting with the winter sport sector.

Faced with rising Covid-19 rates and hospital patient numbers, France has toughened its restrictions in a last-ditch bid to avoid a third nationwide lockdown, including closing non-EU borders and large shopping centres.

But for the moment no ban has yet been issued on travel between regions and ministers said on Tuesday that it was still possible to take a holiday or visit family and friends in a different part of France – while warning that the situation could change quickly.

“At the moment, there are no restrictions on travelling,” said Junior Minister Emmanuelle Wargon on Tuesday.

“The holidays can take place,” she told French TV channel BFM. “However, of course, as you know, our decisions evolve every day. . . alongside the evolution of the virus,” she added. “Things can always change.”

Secretary of state of tourism Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne also told BFM: “Today, going on holiday is possible. There are no restrictions on circulating between the regions.”

The February school holidays begin in some regions of France on Saturday, February 6th.

“There is a capacity to go on holiday, but it's important to remain vigilant when doing so, like people in France did over Christmas,” Lemoyne said. “That means for example not hesitating to get tested if you plan to visit your grandparents.” 

But the ministers warned things could change quickly and with Macron holding another Defence Council meeting with top ministers on Wednesday a future lockdown could still be on the cards.

“We will be extremely vigilant… we monitor the health situation every day, the number will dictate the rest,” said Lemoyne. “We will update the French as regularly as possible.”

Case rates, hospital rates and death rates continue their slow and steady rise in France, though Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Sunday that things were looking better than feared.

The number of new coronavirus cases had barely increased over the past week, he told Le Journal du Dimanche, while other indicators – such as traces of the virus detected in waste water – were also reassuring.

But he too stressed that, if the numbers worsened, the government “won't hesitate” to impose a lockdown.

“We never said we would not re-confine in the coming 15 days if it were necessary,” the health minister said.

France's intensive care ward occupancy rate in hospitals stood at 63.6 percent nationwide on Monday, with some regions at the brink of saturation and several hospitals having to transfer patients between regions. 

France also registered its highest hospital death toll in months on Monday, with 456 fatalities due to Covid-19 registered in one day – a number unmatched since November 24th, when the country was under its second lockdown, although Monday tallies can include delayed reporting from the weekend.

Photo: Santé Publique France

Despite the government's tepid reassurances, the French public seem to be expecting a looming lockdown. Holiday booking rates dropped by 77 percent over the past few days, according to a study by the French holiday company PAP Vacances, published by France Info.

Compared to February last year, this year has seen 58.4 percent fewer holiday bookings for the February break, with the mountineering sector suffering the heaviest loss of 66.9 percent of their clients last year.

The French government has promised the ski sector to strengthen economic aid as compensation for what looks to be a saison blanche – a total write-off of the ski season.

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Kinder pulls 3,000 tonnes of products after salmonella cases

Children in nine European countries, including 81 in France, were affected

Kinder pulls 3,000 tonnes of products after salmonella cases

More than 3,000 tonnes of Kinder products have been withdrawn from the market over salmonella fears leaving a dent of tens of millions of euros, a company official has told France’s Le Parisien.

Nicolas Neykov, the head of Ferrero France, said the contamination came “from a filter located in a vat for dairy butter”, at a factory in Arlon in Belgium.

He said the contamination could have been caused by humans or raw materials.

Chocolate products made at the factory in Arlon, southeastern Belgium, were found to contain salmonella, resulting in 150 cases in nine European countries.

Eighty-one of these were in France, mainly affecting children under 10 years old.

The factory’s closure and the health concerns were blows to its owner, Italian confectionery giant Ferrero, coming at the height of the Easter holiday season when its Kinder chocolates are sought-after supermarket buys.

“This crisis is heartbreaking. It’s the biggest removal of products in the last 20 years,” Neykov said.

But the company hoped to be able to start up the factory again, with 50 percent of health and safety inspections to be carried out by an approved “external laboratory” in the future, instead of the previous system of only internal reviews.

“We have asked for a reopening from June 13 to relaunch production as soon as possible,” he added.