VIENNA (Reuters) - The Austrian ski resort of Ischgl, which became a byword for COVID-19 after a massive outbreak there last year, said on Wednesday it will not open this season as it wants to avoid "unnecessary risks" given stubbornly high infections nationally.
The virus found a breeding ground in crowded apres-ski bars at the resort, a party hotspot that branded itself the "Ibiza of the Alps". By the time the first case was detected in early March, COVID-19 had been spreading for a month, and thousands of tourists from across Europe brought the virus home with them.
The outbreak caused fury particularly in neighbouring Germany, Ischgl's biggest source of visitors, with many of those who were infected blaming the local authorities for not doing more to stop it. The authorities have said they responded appropriately given what was known at the time.
To avoid a repeat of that outbreak, Ischgl invested in safety measures like a testing centre and cameras to enforce social distancing. National lockdown measures under which hotels remain closed and restaurants can only serve take-away meals forced Ischgl to repeatedly put off its winter opening.
"Our heart is heavy but at the end of the day it is about health, and that is why we are saying, 'Alright, we will call off this winter because of the exceptional situation and concentrate on the summer season'," said Andreas Steibl, director of Ischgl's tourist board.
Austria let ski lifts reopen on Dec. 24 but many resorts that rely mainly on foreign visitors, like Ischgl, decided to remain closed until hotels could reopen and quarantine restrictions deterring foreign visitors were lifted. Ischgl had, however, hoped its ski season could then be extended until June.
"Given the infections situation, which remains concerning, tightened travel restrictions and the lack of prospects for reopening in the hospitality sector, resuming ski operations is less justifiable than ever," Ischgl's Silvrettaseilbahn ski lift operator said in a statement.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)