UPDATE 2-France may let ski resorts reopen on Jan. 7, minister says

(Adds minister comment)

PARIS, Dec 11 (Reuters) - The French government will let ski resorts reopen lifts on Jan. 7 if the COVID-19 situation allows, a minister said on Friday after Prime Minister Jean Castex met resort representatives.

“Jan. 7 is a possibility, as long as conditions allow this,” French junior foreign affairs minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said on BFM television.

France began easing its second COVID-19 lockdown last month but President Emmanuel Macron said winter sport resorts in France would not be able to reopen before the end of the year to contain a new wave of infections across the country.

During the first wave of infections last season, some ski centres became breeding grounds for the epidemic, accelerating its spread across Europe.

As European countries have struggled in recent weeks to act in unison on ski resorts, France, which has 250 ski centres, will make random border checks to stop French people getting infected with COVID-19 by crossing into countries where resorts remain open.

Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, has allowed resorts to remain open for domestic tourism, taking a different path from neighbours Italy, France and Germany which are keeping winter sports under wraps over the holiday period in a bid to control the pandemic.

France’s junior minister of European Affairs, Clement Beaune, said on Tuesday that the European Union was still hoping to reach a deal with Switzerland about having a level-playing field over the opening of ski resorts in Europe.

France’s highest administrative court on Friday dismissed an appeal lodged by ski resorts and winter sports’ representatives against government COVID-19 restrictions on ski lifts.

Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said on Friday the 2021 budget earmarked 400 million euros ($484.80 million) to support ski resorts forced to close for Christmas holidays. ($1 = 0.8251 euros) (Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Matthieu Protard; Editing by Catherine Evans and Philippa Fletcher)