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AFP
September 25, 2020

Austria bans apres-ski parties, issues new travel warnings: Virus death rates climbing in EU states

World

AFP
September 25, 2020

STOCKHOLM: Seven EU countries are of “high concern” because of rising virus death rates, with worrying trends in several other countries, the EU’s disease control agency warned

on Thursday.

The seven have “an increased proportion of hospitalised and severe cases” among older people and “increasing or high death notification rates are already observed... or may be observed soon”. The countries outlined were Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Malta.

Other countries have observed rising infection rates primarily among younger people, who are less at risk of developing severe symptoms. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention singled out 13 European countries in this situation, including France and Britain.

However, because of developments in recent days, most of these countries “now appear to meet the criteria for classification as countries with high concerning trends”, because of an increase in infection rates among older age groups, the ECDC said.

A third group were considered to be stable, where the risk was “low” for the general population and “moderate” for risk groups. The ECDC noted that in the EU, “the vulnerability of the population to infection remains high as available data from seroprevalence studies suggest that the level of immunity in the population is less than 15 percent in most areas within the EU/EEA and the UK”. “Most of the people can still be infected,” ECDC director Andrea Ammon told reporters during an online briefing with European Commissioner Stella Kyriakides.

“What we are seeing in many countries is, not only in Spain, that a lot of the transmission that’s ongoing right now is due to private meetings, big family dinners, weddings, all get-togethers that you have with your with your friends and family,”she said.

However, she refrained to call for a general shutdown of shops, restaurants and bars, stressing such decisions had to be made individually and ought to depend on whether social distancing measures could be respected.

Meanwhile, Austria on Thursday announced a ban on apres-ski parties, which were blamed for creating coronavirus hotspots earlier this year, and issued travel warnings for Paris, Prague and other destinations.

Even as infections are rapidly rising again in the Alpine country, authorities are adamant that Austria’s world-famous ski resorts — which generate a huge amount of tourist revenue — will still open in the coming winter season.

Thousands of tourists from all over the world became infected at tightly-packed ski-slope bars around early March. This time, strict social distancing and hygiene measures will be enforced, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

“It won’t be possible to have apres-ski the way we are used to from the past, because the risk of infection is too high... Ski fun yes, but no apres-ski,” he told reporters. Tourists must keep at least one metre (three feet) apart at all times, wear masks in cable cars and gondolas, and bars and restaurants will serve drink and food to seated customers only.

“Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, dancing, singing in small bars or outdoor bars are potential centres of infection,” Tourism Minister Elisabeth Koestinger said. Another top tourist attraction, the country’s Christmas markets, will also be allowed to open this year, on condition they comply with safety guidelines like masks and social distancing.

Austria is heavily reliant on tourism, and recent travel warnings for parts of Austria, including from neighbouring Germany, have hit the industry hard.

Austria, for its part, has also introduced rules requiring travellers from regions with high infection rates to show negative coronavirus tests or undergo self-isolation. On Thursday, Austria issued new travel warnings for Paris, Prague, Israel and a number of other destinations, but removed Sweden, Australia, Japan and others from the list. Austria with population of nearly nine million has recorded more than 41,000 cases and 783 deaths from coronavirus in total to date.