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SKIIING

French ski resorts reopen after 2020 Covid write-off

French mountain resorts are starting to open for the first time since Covid made last season a write-off, with winter sport enthusiasts and sector professionals hoping that no fresh virus wave will spoil the fun.

People ski down a slope near a cable car at Val Thorens ski resort, in the French Alps
People ski down a slope near a cable car at Val Thorens ski resort, in the French Alps, as ski resorts begin reopening this weekend. PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Val Thorens, Europe’s highest winter sport resort at 2,300 metres (7,500 feet) and hugely popular with Britons, was the first of France’s Alpine resorts allowing skiers back on the lifts and slopes on Saturday.

Others will follow over the coming weeks.

“Amazing, we’re the first,” said one skier testing the slopes with a group of friends. “It’s a bit cold, but we’ll be fine,” the skier added.

READ ALSO Masks and health pass: Covid rules in France’s ski resorts this winter

Some 10,000 people descended on the station on Saturday, local media reported, with the snow in good shape and favourable weather.

France’s resorts are the world’s third-most popular skiing spots in the world, after those in the United States and in Austria, and an economic lifeline for many regions.

“This year will be important for us, crucial even,” said Olivier Simonin, in charge of ski lifts in Val d’Isere which is to open next Saturday.

“Our future is at stake and we can’t imagine not having a winter season, so we did everything possible to make sure we’d have one,” he told AFP.

Last winter, Alpine skiing was almost impossible in France as ski lifts were shut to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hotels were allowed to open and other winter activities such as snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing were authorised, but the lack of downhill skiing caused a collapse in income.

“We’re so happy to be able to restart the ski lifts and get back to doing our jobs at 100 percent,” Val Thorens ski patrol member Emmanuel Laissus told AFP.

Franck Feyeux, a cabin lift driver, added: “We’ve been impatient for customers to return, a lot of people’s livelihoods are at stake.”

The tiny station of Porte-Puymorens, meanwhile, was the first resort in the southwestern Pyrenees to reopen, with others in the region to follow suit by early December.

“Demand is incredible,” Porte-Puymorens resort director Eric Charre told AFP. “The economic engine is restarting.”

Covid-related demands on skiers are relatively light at the resorts, with mask-wearing required in queues and on board ski gondolas.

But the government has already warned that it could tighten the rules, notably by introducing a health pass obligation, if Covid cases rise strongly.

The health pass, required in French restaurants, cafes and many cultural venues, certifies that a person is fully vaccinated, has recently recovered from Covid, or has tested negative for the virus.

READ ALSO: Will travel to and from France be open this Christmas?
READ ALSO: Masks and health pass: Covid rules in France’s ski resorts this winter

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COVID-19

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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