Europe's lucrative ski season is heading for a near-total write-off after France confirmed its slopes will not open in time for the February half term while Spain's PM said visitors will not be welcome until after summer.
Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, the French tourism minister, delivered the bad news on Wednesday after a Defence Council meeting, saying that a reopening on February 1 - which resort owners had been pushing for - 'seems highly improbable'.
In fact, Arnaud Fontanet - one of France's top disease experts and a government advisor - warned on Friday that lockdown measures may actually have to get tougher to stop the new and more-infectious UK variant of Covid from spreading.
Meanwhile Pedro Sanchez, Spain's Prime Minister, said tourists will not be allowed back into the country until herd immunity had been achieved through vaccination - a milestone that is unlikely to be passed until the end of summer at the earliest.
Tourism is thought to have been a primary drive of Europe's second wave of Covid, as cases were exported around the continent by travellers during the summer - and leaders now seem keen to avoid repeating that mistake.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
French tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne says it 'seems highly improbable' that the country's ski resorts will be allowed to open for the February half term, meaning the season will be a near-total write-off
Meanwhile France's top disease expert warned Covid restrictions - which currently stop short of a full lockdown - may have to get tougher because the more-infectious UK variant of the disease is likely to drive cases up (pictured, French cases now)
France has managed to hold its Covid cases and deaths - at one point among the worst in Europe - to a standstill since December, but there are fears that new variants could see both figures soar once again
French ski resort owners, who had been pushing the government to deliver a firm answer to the question of reopening this week, described Lemoyne's announcement as a 'catastrophe' for their industry.
The sector employs some 400,000 people and is thought to be worth up to £9.5billion per year to the French economy.
February school holidays in France are structured in such a way as to allow families maximum time to hit the slopes, with children given two weeks off each, spread out over the entire month.
Cross-country skiing and snow-walking are still allowed for the time being since Leymoyne's announcement only bans ski lifts will from opening.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
But without lifts, downhill skiing and snowboarding will be next-to impossible.
France has the third-highest number of ski resorts in Europe, behind only Italy and Germany - where lifts have also been closed.
Meanwhile lifts remain open in Austria, Spain and Switzerland, but only to locals.
And in a cruel twist of fate, Europe's especially cold winter this year is bringing lots of snow - leading to near-perfect conditions on many pistes where in recent years snow machines had to be brought in to top up the low amounts that were falling.
After a poor summer season, the winter