Covid-19: Will Austria have a normal ski season this winter?

People working in the Austrian winter sports industry are hoping to attract foreign tourists this year after hotels, bars and restaurants were closed for the entire season last winter, meaning only locals could ski.

Skier in Austria
What form will the ski season take this year? (Photo by Jörg Angeli on Unsplash)

Tourism, a large part of which involves winter sports, is vital for Austria’s economy. According to the news agency Reuters, tourism makes up up five percent of the country’s total economic output.

Now, following the roll out of Covid vaccines, Green Passes and the opening up of Austria’s shops, hotels, restaurants and borders, ski lifts up to the glacier on the Kitzsteinhorn in the Salzberg region will start running on Saturday as Austria’s winter ski season begins. 

But how will the 2021/22 winter ski season balance safety with opening up again in Austria? 

Skiing will mean adhering to the 3G rule

It will only be possible to book cable cars to Austria’s mountains for people who can prove they have either been fully vaccinated, have recently recovered from the Covid-19 virus or have tested negative (the 3G rule). For those presenting a test result, the booking will only be valid for the validity of the test, after which a new test must be shown, the Kurier newspaper reports. An antigen test is only valid for 24 hours in Austria.

When travelling in enclosed ski lifts, everyone must wear hospital grade FFP2 face masks. At present there are no rules on social distancing or a maximum capacity in the lifts.

Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger has urged those wishing to enjoy a “safe and carefree” winter holiday to “get vaccinated”. 

Further rules are expected to be unveiled, and some operators are asking people booking ski passes to sign a form stating they will obey any future government regulations. 

Après ski

A challenge faced by opening up skiing again is après ski, when people go and unwind with a drink or two after a day on the slopes. Après ski bars were responsible for a large number of infections in Austria during the early days of the corona pandemic.

Those hoping to party like it’s 2019 may be in for a shock. The Tyrolean Governor Günther Platter oversees top ski resorts such as Ischgl, formerly dubbed the ‘Ibiza of the Alps’. He has stated “there will no longer be après-ski as before the pandemic” according to the news agency Reuters.

To make the après ski bars safer, the government has re-classified these as similar to night clubs (what constitutes an après -ski bar will be defined locally). Under present rules, people wishing to go to an après ski bar must show proof of vaccination or recovery or a negative PCR test (antigen tests are not valid). 

There are already plans in place to make nightclubs and après ski bars subject to a 2G rule if the numbers of patients in intensive care units in Austria rises above 300, a figure some experts believe will be reached by late October, according to broadcaster ORF. This would mean only people vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 would be able to go to après-ski bars or nightclubs. It would not be possible to access them with a negative test.

If there are more than 400 patients in Austria’s ICUs with Covid-19, unvaccinated people will no longer be allowed to show antigen tests to access the ski slopes, but will have to show a more accurate negative PCR test. 

READ MORE: Austria mulls banning unvaccinated from cafes, restaurants and gyms if ICU situation worsens

Municipalities will also be given extra powers to impose curfews on après ski venues if the infection risk rises in specific locations. 

Will tourists want to come skiing in Austria this winter? 

The tourism commissioner of the German federal government, Thomas Bareiß,  told newspapers that Germans wanted  “to go on a carefree skiing holiday again,” at the end of September according to Der Standard newspaper. However, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently advised American citizens not to travel to Austria due to Covid-19 concerns.

READ MORE: US now advises against travel to Austria 

And according to the Austrian broadcaster ORF,  the number of bookings this winter is expected to be far below the levels recorded before the coronavirus crisis.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”