Swiss ski resorts can stay open for now - health minister

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Grindelwald

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss ski resorts can stay open for now as long as they have strict safety measures in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Health Minister Alain Berset said on Thursday.

Neighbours France, Italy, Austria and Germany have all ordered even the high-altitude lifts that could be running this early in the winter to remain closed in the hope that all resorts can benefit at peak-season, if and when the infection rate slows.

"In Switzerland the situation is much easier, one can still ski, that was always the goal. Obviously with respect for very strict measures, we have to have protection plans and things must be clear," Berset told a news conference in Bern.

He left the door open to change policy should conditions change by the year's end, when the two-week holiday period lures many winter sports enthusiasts to the slopes.

"The situation remains very serious and very unstable...and we have not decided yet how it will go in future," Berset said, adding Bern was in close contact with its neighbours and Swiss cantons.

He acknowledged tensions would arise if Swiss resorts were the only ones open. "We will have to discuss this with the cantons but we are a sovereign country and can decide ourselves what the facts are on our territory," he added.

Switzerland has adopted a "middle path" to curb the pandemic that has infected more than 300,000 and killed 4,109 here, leaving the nation largely open for business while urging people to keep their distance and embrace proper hygiene.

Berset said Switzerland could get the first, limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of January if all went well. It would not force people to get vaccines, which it plans to distribute to patients free of charge.

Switzerland has signed vaccine contracts with Moderna and AstraZeneca and reserved doses from Pfizer while finalising a contract.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; editing by Stephanie Nebehay and Barbara Lewis)