5.3 C
New York
6.2 C
London
20.7 C
Dubai
7.4 C
Tokyo
Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sweden’s ski resorts want to stay open despite rising coronavirus infections

Press play to listen to this article

- Advertisement -

STÖTEN, Sweden — Welcome the last bastion of Sweden’s lockdown resistance: its ski resorts. 

On a recent weekday in Stöten, a small resort close to the Norwegian border, skiers and snowboarders raced through thick powder dumped by a recent storm. 

Early morning temperatures of minus 28 degrees Celsius proved no barrier for tourists keen for some fun after months of increasing pandemic-related restrictions. 

“It’s just great to breathe the mountain air,” one tourist told her companion as she made for one of Stöten’s chair lifts. 

But clouds are gathering over Sweden’s winter wonderlands. 

- Advertisement -

In the capital Stockholm, a third coronavirus wave is looming, and Health Minister Lena Hallengren on Wednesday announced that the government wants to expand its lockdown powers to take in a wider range of private businesses — including sports facilities — as well public spaces where crowding might occur. 

“There remains a need to take further measures to limit the spread of infection,” Hallengren told a news conference. “It may be necessary to shut down parts of Swedish society.”

Sweden famously left its borders, schools and businesses open as much of Europe locked down last spring. 

Since then, Sweden’s death rate from COVID-19 has hovered around the European average but has been much higher than in neighboring Norway and Finland, which imposed stiffer restrictions early on. 

Despite growing criticism, chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has continued to defend his country’s stance, claiming its lighter touch has been as effective as lockdown in slowing the spread of the virus while doing less damage to people’s overall well-being. 

However, a harsh second wave late last year prompted the Swedish government to reverse course and it began shutting many public spaces, from museums to swimming pools. On January 8, a new law was approved granting the government the power to also shut privately owned shopping centers.  

“We have to look at things case by case and identify where the threat is coming from,” Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said then.

Sweden’s ski resorts became a hotbed of infection last March as half-term holidaymakers packed bars and restaurants and partied long into the winter night. 

By Easter, the situation was so bad that the Public Health Agency leaned on tour operators to shut down resorts, which they did voluntarily, in a rare early example of a Swedish lockdown-like action. 

- Advertisement -

Ahead of this year’s ski season, a fresh debate flared as critics of the government’s hands-off approach rounded on the ski resort operators, saying they should keep their lifts still. 

But commitments by the operators to shut a range of communal areas within the resorts — like swimming pools and saunas — and restrict access to restaurants and shops, paved the way for a reopening. 

Companies running ski resorts have said they should be allowed to stay open as they offer much-needed healthy outdoor activities where participants can remain spread out. 

“I feel very secure about all the measures we have taken to make sure things are safe,” said Stefan Sjöstrand, CEO of Skistar, which runs one of Sweden’s biggest resorts in the village of Sälen, about 40 kilometers east of Stöten. “We are open and we plan to stay open,” he told public service radio this week. 

The busy New Year holidays passed without a noticeable spike in infections in Sälen, but rates are now rising there — as they are elsewhere across the country in what is rapidly becoming a third wave.

On Wednesday, the head of Stockholm’s health services, Björn Eriksson, said the number of new cases in the capital had risen by 24 percent in just a week. 

“I’m very concerned,” he told reporters. “If you have to travel, make sure you do it in a safe way.”

With Stockholm’s half-term holiday due to start March 1, health officials along the main routes to the mountains, and in the mountain villages themselves, are getting edgy. 

They say tourists don’t always adhere to social-distancing rules en route, or at their destinations.

“People seem to be relaxing and believing that we can celebrate half-term like normal,” Anna Skogstam, a doctor working with infection control in the county of Värmland, told national daily Aftonbladet. 

At a press briefing on Thursday, Prime Minister Stefan Löfven sought to drive home the current national guidance and warn further restrictions will come if necessary.

“We are ready to make the decisions which the infection situation demands, and that could be shutdowns or allowing municipalities to restrict access to certain places: Health and people’s lives come first,” Löfven said.

In Stöten, the swimming pool has been shut, ski schools groups reduced, and the owners of the grocery store asked people to shop alone. 

But signs posted around the resort still offer visitors a warm welcome, albeit with caveats. 

“Remember to keep a ski-pole’s length apart,” the signs said. 

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

Powered by the Echo RSS Plugin by CodeRevolution.

Related Articles

Re: Ex-Greek Diplomat: ‘Turkey cannot be excluded from Eastern Mediterranean’ – Middle East Monitor

Greece's efforts to exclude Turkey from the Eastern Mediterranean threaten regional peace and security, a former senior Greek diplomat said on Saturday, according to...

Re: Don’t bully Riyadh, Saudi columnists tell Biden administration

Saudi Arabia's sovereignty is a red line, Saudi columnists said on Sunday, ramping up rhetoric in defence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after...

Re: Israel DM threatens Lebanon over remarks made by Hezbollah

Israeli Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday threatened the Lebanese people over repeated remarks made by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah,...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Click to Subscribe!

7,698FansLike
5,572FollowersFollow
0SubscribersSubscribe
- Advertisement -

Latest Articles

Re: Ex-Greek Diplomat: ‘Turkey cannot be excluded from Eastern Mediterranean’ – Middle East Monitor

Greece's efforts to exclude Turkey from the Eastern Mediterranean threaten regional peace and security, a former senior Greek diplomat said on Saturday, according to...

Re: Don’t bully Riyadh, Saudi columnists tell Biden administration

Saudi Arabia's sovereignty is a red line, Saudi columnists said on Sunday, ramping up rhetoric in defence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after...

Re: Israel DM threatens Lebanon over remarks made by Hezbollah

Israeli Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday threatened the Lebanese people over repeated remarks made by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah,...

Re: Israel DM threatens Lebanon over remarks made by Hezbollah

Israeli Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday threatened the Lebanese people over repeated remarks made by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah,...

Re: Israel DM threatens Lebanon over remarks made by Hezbollah

Israeli Defence Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday threatened the Lebanese people over repeated remarks made by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah,...