Bus shuttle service for French skiers in Switzerland risks stoking tensions

One of Switzerland's biggest ski resorts is set to launch a shuttle service to bus in skiers from nearby French ski stations in a move that could stoke tensions between authorities the two countries.

Bus shuttle service for French skiers in Switzerland risks stoking tensions
A bus will bring skiers from France to Switzerland

Normally skiers in the Franco-Swiss area of Portes du Soleil, which comprises parts of Valais in Switzerland and Chablais on the French side, ski from one slope to another without knowing which country they are in.

But Switzerland has decided to open its ski slopes while France’s remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The government has said ski resorts can open in France but ski lifts will remain closed as will bars and restaurants.

So one of Switzerland's biggest resorts is to put in place a shuttle bus from the Swiss side to pick up skiers at nearby resorts in France and bring them to Valais.

“We plan to pick up the skiers near Châtel and the other French resorts by bus. We are preparing to absorb part of the French clientele,” Enrique Caballero, director of the Portes du Soleil Switzerland said in an interview this week.

The cost of the bus service would be included in the price of a ski pass in the Swiss resorts.

The price of transportation will include the “ski pass on the Swiss side”, he pointed out.

Caballero also said that “we have no intention to enrich ourselves on the misfortune of others. Our main objective is to help our French neighbours by absorbing part of their skiers during the holidays”.

READ MORE: ’The Swiss way is right’: Switzerland defends decision to keep ski resorts open 

“But if this results in a balanced income for this winter season, so much the better!” he added.

Contacted by the media, Christophe Darbellay, president of Valais’ Council of State explained that this move should not be seen as “provoking the French government”.

“Welcoming foreign tourists is not the same as actively looking for them”, he said.

Caballero specified that the shuttle service “is not about recruiting clients in France. We simply want to avoid overcrowding in parking lots.”

While France, Italy and Germany are leading a European Union effort to close ski slopes until at least mid-January, in Switzerland some slopes are already open across the country – and more will follow. 

“In Switzerland, we can go skiing, with protection plans in place,” Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters on Thursday.

He added that while these plans might cause tension between Switzerland and its neighbours, “we are a sovereign country and we can decide ourselves what to do on our own territory”.




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Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence

Swiss government has devised three contingency plans that could be implemented to fight a new outbreak. What are they?

Three scenarios: How Switzerland plans to fight a Covid resurgence
Authorities want to prevent overcrowded hospitals if new wave comes. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Although Switzerland relaxed a number of coronavirus rules from June 26th and 28th, “the pandemic is not over”, as Health Minister Alain Berset said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Berset said Switzerland should not become complacent, with last summer a warning against feeling that the battle is won. 

He added, however, that the new wave is unlikely to be as large as the previous ones due to the country’s vaccination campaign.

This situation leaves a degree of uncertainty for which the government wants to be prepared as well as possible, Berset noted.

The Federal Council established a “just-in-case” procedure on Wednesday for three possible scenarios that could take place in the autumn and winter. 

These plans focus mainly on the rapid detection of variants and the continuation of vaccination, testing, and tracing.

The best-case scenario: status quo

In this scenario, the number of cases remains at a low level, though small outbreaks are still possible.

The number of infections may increase slightly due to seasonal factors — the virus is known to spread slower in summer and faster in autumn and winter—  but does not place a significant burden on the health system.

If this happens, no measures beyond those already in place would be necessary.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: Is Switzerland lifting its Covid-19 restrictions too quickly?

Not so good: more contaminations

In this second scenario, there is an increase in the number of cases in autumn or winter.

There may be several reasons for this, for example the large proportion of unvaccinated people, seasonal effects — people tend to stay indoors together in cold weather, and contaminations are easier — or the appearance of new, more infectious variants.

This situation could overburden the health system and require the reintroduction of certain measures, such as the obligation to wear a mask outdoors.

Booster vaccinations may also be necessary.

The worst: new virus mutations

In scenario three, one or more new variants appear, against which the vaccine or the post-recovery immunity are less effective or no longer effective.

A new wave of pandemic emerges, requiring strong intervention by the public authorities and a new vaccination.

Which of the three scenarios is most likely to happen?

The government hasn’t said, but judging by the comments of health officials, the latter two are the strongest contenders.

Firstly, because the highly contagious Delta mutation, which is spreading quickly through many countries, is expected to be dominant in Switzerland within a few weeks.

It is expected that the virus will spread mostly to those who are not vaccinated and, to a lesser degree, to people who have only had one shot of the vaccine, according to Andreas Cerny, epidemiologist at the University of Bern

READ MORE: How Switzerland plans to contain the Delta variant

Another concern is related to the appearance of the new variants which could be as or possibly even more contagious than Delta and not as responsive to the current vaccines.

The government said the best chance of avoiding the second or third scenarios is to ensure people are vaccinated. 

“Widespread vaccination of the population is crucial to relieve the burden on the healthcare system and to manage the epidemic. A possible increase in the number of coronavirus cases in the autumn will largely depend on the proportion of the population that has been vaccinated,” the government wrote in a press statement.

The government has also indicating it is preparing for booster vaccinations to take place in 2022 and are encouraging cantons to keep their vaccine infrastructures in place.