Austria to welcome skiers, but dancing on bars is off the menu

FILE PHOTO: Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz addresses the media next to Health Minister Rudolf Anschober, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Vienna, Austria, September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

VIENNA (Reuters) - Skiers in Austria this winter must sit at tables in bars rather than dance on them, the government said on Thursday, outlining plans to rein in the country’s apres-ski parties that have fuelled the spread of the coronavirus.

Winter sports are serious business in Austria, a superpower of competitive skiing where tourism accounts directly and indirectly for around 15% of economic output.

But its resorts are also known for less athletic fun. Once lifts shut, skiers pile into often rowdy bars that became a breeding ground for the virus last season, fuelling several outbreaks, including one at the resort of Ischgl.

“There will be no apres-ski as we know it from earlier times,” Tourism Minister Elisabeth Koestinger told a news conference, adding the seating requirement would also apply to outdoor areas.

“Standing, dancing, singing while densely packed in small bars or under-umbrella bars is a potential source of infection and we are distancing ourselves from it,” she said.

In closed ski lifts, face masks will be required and passengers must stay 1 metre apart, Koestinger said, likening it to public transport.

The requirement to sit at tables is in line with new rules for bars and restaurants in Austria, which is trying to bring a second wave of infections under control. Daily cases here are as high as they were in late March, when the first spike was decreasing under a national lockdown.

The conservative-led government wants to avoid such drastic measures for the sake of the economy, but its top source of foreign guests, Germany, has already issued a travel warning for one of its skiing regions, the province of Vorarlberg.

“Skiing pleasure yes, but without apres-ski,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Janet Lawrence