Catalonia keeps COVID-19 restrictions, some ski slopes postpone opening
By Joan Faus
BARCELONA (Reuters) - The Spanish region of Catalonia will not relax coronavirus restrictions on Monday as originally planned because of worsening infection rates, officials said, prompting some ski slopes to postpone their planned opening next week.
The winter skiing season has become a source of tension among European countries, with some allowing resorts to open and others, like Spain's neighbour France, banning it and planning border checks to stop people from crossing the border to ski.
In Catalonia, a northeastern Spanish region that borders France, public ski resorts had planned to open after a Dec.8 bank holiday.
But these ski slopes will not open until Catalonia relaxes its coronavirus restrictions, among other conditions, said a spokeswoman from FGC, the public company that operates the resorts.
Privately-owned ski slopes in Catalonia have not yet decided whether to open, said a spokeswoman from the regional federation of ski resorts.
Baqueira Beret, Spain's largest ski station, which is in private hands, is sticking to its plan to open on Dec. 11 but that is subject to change awaiting clarification from the Catalan government, a spokesman said.
"We were reducing (contagion rates) very quickly ... Now the reduction is almost undetectable," Catalan health secretary Josep Maria Argimon told a news conference, to explain why the region was not relaxing COVID-19 restrictions as planned.
The situation worsened after bars and restaurants were allowed to reopen on Nov. 23, Argimon said, adding that the current restrictions would remain in place for at least another 15 days from Dec. 7.
Moving to the next phase would have allowed bars and restaurants to admit more customers to their indoor spaces, shopping malls could have opened and a ban on travelling outside one's municipality at weekends would have been scrapped.
Officials said, however, that they would allow people to move freely within and outside Catalonia during the Christmas celebrations.
Under Spain's decentralized political system, the regions are largely responsible for imposing their own coronavirus restrictions within national guidelines.
(Reporting by Joan Faus and Nathan Allen; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Alexandra Hudson)