A last-minute decision to cancel the reopening of ski resorts in Italy has sparked fury and a rebellion against the restrictions.
Italy’s ski season had been scheduled to get under way on Monday, but was postponed by the health ministry until 5 March amid concerns about the spread of Covid-19 variants.
The late decision was based on a report from the higher health institute showing that the UK coronavirus variant represented 17.8% of new infections in Italy. The variant has been identified in at least 13 of the country’s 20 regions.
“Concern about the spread of this and other variants of Sars-CoV-2 has led to similar measures being taken in France and Germany,” the ministry said.
There was an immediate backlash to the U-turn, which came a day after the new Mario Draghi-led government was sworn in, especially as resorts had been planning for weeks for the restart.
“A closure communicated at 7pm on the eve of the opening, planned for weeks, after months of work on protocols, hiring and preparation, is sincerely inconceivable,” said Erik Lavévaz, the president of the Valle d’Aosta region. “While understanding the health reasons, the procedure is not genuinely explainable.”
Attilio Fontana, the president of Lombardy, the region in Italy worst affected by coronavirus, said the abrupt decision was a “further serious blow to a sector that was painfully restarting”.
The ski season is a huge financial resource for Italy and many villages across the mountainous northern and central regions depend on it for survival. Coldiretti, the farmers’ association, estimates the economic loss to the sector and affiliated businesses at €10bn.
Roberto Speranza, who was reconfirmed as health minister by Draghi, said the affected businesses would soon be compensated.
Some resorts defied the decision and reopened ski stations on Monday, including Piana di Vigezzo in Craveggia, Piedmont. The resort welcomed its first 100 or so skiers from 8am.
“On Friday we were reassured by the regional authorities and had prepared everything for a safe reopening,” Luca Mantovani, one of the owners of the company that manages ski stations in the area, told Italian media. “So now we decided to go our own way.”
A flash mob protest is planned on Monday afternoon in Bardonecchia, Piedmont.
Scientists advising the health ministry, including Walter Ricciardi, urged postponing the reopening. On Monday, Ricciardi repeated calls for an “immediate total lockdown”. Italy has recorded more than 93,500 coronavirus-related deaths, the second highest toll in Europe after the UK. Research published at the weekend suggested that the UK variant could be deadlier than other versions.
Italy imposed a severe, two-month lockdown at the start of the pandemic last spring, but since October has managed the virus using a tiered system of restrictions. There were 11,068 new infections registered on Sunday, down from highs of more than 40,000 in mid-November, while 2,085 people are being treated for Covid-19 in intensive care. “The heavy number of deaths each day shows that the strategy of living with the virus, adopted so far, is ineffective and condemns us to instability,” Ricciardi told the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.
Ricciardi’s renewed call for a lockdown was criticised by Matteo Salvini, whose far-right League is part of Draghi’s broad-based alliance. “Before terrorising millions of Italians, do us a favour by talking to the prime minister first,” Salvini said.