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UPDATE: What we know about plans to open Spain’s ski resorts

With Spain preparing for its first proper snowfall this weekend, winter sport lovers are asking when ski resorts across the country will be opening.

UPDATE: What we know about plans to open Spain’s ski resorts
The town of Formigal as seen from the slopes.Photo: Formigal Aramon Resort

The winter skiing season has become a source of tension among European countries, with several countries refusing to open resorts fearing it could spark a new bout of coronavirus outbreaks.

Even as its northern neighbour France banned its ski resorts from opening and threatened border checks to stop people from crossing the  border to ski, Spain has not completely ruled out opening its ski resorts.

Infact, Spain’s Tourism Minister has insisted Spain is determined to open its ski resorts this season.

Reyes Maroto, said in an interview with RNE that the “government is in favour of these activities opening in a safe way”.

Spain's Association of Ski Resorts (ATUDEM) presented plans last week for the winter season insisting that ski tourism lends itself well to coronavirus restrictions at least in terms of social distancing.

They point out the obvious facts; that the sport is carried out in the open air meeting the “well ventilated” criteria that is supposed to limit the risk of contagion. Plus, the length of skies when worn naturally keeps skiers apart the 1.5 metres social distancing recommended by health authorities.

The report on how to keep resorts safe recognised potential hotspots at ski equipment hire shops, restaurants and on the lifts but suggested that the risks could be easily mitigated.

They outlined plans that include extra cleaning at installations and adding hand sanitizer dispensers, a ban on smoking in busy places in resorts and limiting numbers in restaurants to ensure social distancing.

However restrictions on travel that have been announced over the Christmas period means it could be difficult for those who don’t live near a resort to get to the slopes, if they want to abide by the rules.

In Catalonia, which boasts several areas of ski resorts in the Pyrenees bordering France and Andorra, plans are still afoot to open the pistes after the December puente.

The Catalan resorts of Masella, Boí Taüll, La Molina, Port Ainé, Vallter 2000, Espot Esquí and Tavascán had all announced that they were opening on December 9th.

But on Thursday, a spokeswoman from FGC, a public company that operates resorts in Catalonia said their opening would have to be delayed until restrictions that prevent people from leaving their municipality at weekend were lifted.

Meanwhile the upmarket and privately run resort of Baqueira Beret, a favourite with Spain’s royal family, was due to open on December 11th and has not announced plans to delay its inaugural weekend.

On Thursday Catalan authorities delayed lifting restrictions on movement between municipalities at weekends and loosening limits on restaurants – measures that will now stay in place until December 21just two days before the national ban on travel within Spain kicks in for Christmas.

It would mean that should the resorts open then only those who live within the region itself will be able to visit ski resorts.

Further west in the Pyrenees within the Aragon region, Aramon, the company that runs resorts in Formigal, Panticosa, Cerler and Valdeinares and Javalambre in Teruel have placed staff on ERTE – Spain's furlough scheme – delaying the opening of their resorts until the situation is clearer.

Candachu and Astun, also in the Pyrenees haven't set a date for opening yet and have also placed staff on ERTE.

In the Sierra Nevada, the season usually opens by the last weekend in November and experienced a good dump of snow over the last weeks but the opening of resorts there have been delayed until border restrictions around Andalusia are lifted – they are currently due to remain in place over the December Puente and not open until December 10th.

But with the new restrictions announced over the Christmas and New Year period, a usually busy time for Spanish ski resorts, it is unclear whether they will be able to open at all.

New rules announced on Wednesday prohibit travel across regional borders between December 23rd and December 6th unless it is for reasons that include, work, study, seeking medical treatment etc.

The one concession made to the rules is to allow people to travel to a different autonomous region within Spain to visit “family or close friends” although the advice is to avoid unnecessary travel and to stay at home.

The rules currently make no exception for skiing.

For the latest on resorts opening and snow levels check out Infonieve.

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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