The UK’s largest ski holiday company has scrapped all trips this year and has offered its customers full refunds amid the coronavirus travel restrictions.
Crystal Ski made the announcement on Tuesday, with the company’s managing director Chris Logan citing ‘continued uncertainty and restrictions’ both in the UK and at ski resorts abroad.
‘We can confirm that we won’t be operating any ski holidays this winter,’ Mr Logan’s statement said.
‘We’re so disappointed not to be able to get our customers to the mountains this winter and we’d like to thank them for their continued patience, understanding and support,’ he added.
Pictured: Skiers and snowboarders walk up a hill next to closed ski lifts in Les Gets, France. The UK’s largest ski holiday company has scrapped all trips this year and has offered its customers full refunds amid the coronavirus travel restrictions
‘We know skiers and snowboarders are desperate to get back on the snow and we’re now looking forward to making next winter one to remember.’
The company said that their customers are being contacted and are being offered a range of compensation, including the option to re-book for a future season.
Customers will also be able to cancel all-together and receive a full refund.
Crystal’s man competitor – Inghams – already cancelled its holidays until April, and it is expected to make a similar decision to Crystal’s for all of its holidays in 2021.
The skiing industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with people unable to travel abroad due to restrictions in place to reduce the spread of the virus.
In France and Italy, Ski resorts are closed while in Austria the slopes are only open to locals, with hotels remaining closed to deter tourists.
While Switzerland is open, travelling abroad from most of the UK is still illegal, while there are strict border restrictions on arrivals to the UK from ski nations.
As of February 14, Europe has seen over 32.3 million cases of the coronavirus and more than 766,000 related deaths.
While the pandemic has been raging on the continent for more than a year, border restrictions have been re-tightened in recent weeks amid concerns over new variants of Covid-19 that are feared to be more infectious and damaging to vaccine efforts.
Britain has won plaudits for the speed of its vaccine drive, with more than 15 million receiving a first dose.
However, it remains one of the world’s worst-hit countries with more than 117,000 deaths, and on Monday it began mandatory hotel quarantining for arrivals from high-risk countries.
Arrivals from the 33 ‘red list’ nations must self-isolate in a hotel for 10 days – at a personal cost of £1,750 ($2,420, 2,000 euros).
Pictured: Travellers from one of the countries on the “red list” are escorted through the arrivals area of terminal 5 of Heathrow airport and onto a waiting coach, on February 16, 2021
‘I’m not happy, but you have to do it,’ said one woman who had flown in from Zambia.
The hotel quarantine is aimed at limiting the spread of highly infectious newer strains of the coronavirus.
But Britain was also the origin of one of the variants that have since made their way around the world – with New Zealand the latest country to detect the British strain.
At least two people have tested positive for the strain in Auckland, prompting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to order a three-day lockdown in the city from Monday.
‘I know we all feel the same way when this happens – not again,’ she said.
‘But remember, we have been here before. That means we know how to get out of this – together.’
Ardern has been widely praised for her handling of the pandemic, with New Zealand recording fewer than 2,000 infections.
Crystal Ski made the announcement on Tuesday, with the company’s managing Chris Logan citing ‘continued uncertainty and restrictions’ both in the UK and at ski resorts abroad
In Vietnam, another country whose Covid response has won plaudits, the government has announced 15 days of restrictions in a northern province at the centre of a growing outbreak.
Gatherings of more than two people will be banned in Hai Duong province from Tuesday, while schools, bars, restaurants and karaoke parlours that were shut early ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday will stay closed.
In contrast, South Africa was reopening schools on Monday despite fears among some parents that the move is premature.
‘I just have to trust the system that they will take care of my child,’ said 37-year-old Kelebogile Ngwenya as she dropped her son off at his school in Johannesburg.
In neighbouring Zimbabwe, health officials were preparing to start vaccinating – despite a deepening economic crisis and scant health resources – after receiving a first batch of China’s Sinopharm vaccine.
On Monday, Germany warned that it will not rule out restrictions on its French border after already partially closing its frontiers with Austria and the Czech Republic.
Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said border closures were a ‘last resort’ but Germany had to do everything possible to slow the spread of the new strains.
The checks have already caused knock-on effects, prompting new rules on the Austria-Italy border that have sparked huge traffic jams.
And there were fresh frustrations for holidaymakers too, as Italy’s government banned ski resorts from reopening just a day before skiiers were due to be allowed back on the slopes.
‘It’s so frustrating! They are having a laugh,’ said skier Matteo Morsia, who had travelled 200 kilometres (120 miles) to the Italian Alps from Milan.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on Monday
On Monday, a further 1.7million people in England were told to shield from coronavirus and everyone on the vulnerable list is being urged to stay at home until at least March 31.
Officials said the list — first drafted almost a year ago — was being almost doubled after No10’s scientific advisers identified additional adults at serious risk of Covid-19.
The Department of Health did not say who would be added, but the update will look at risk factors including age, weight, ethnicity and deprivation – rather than just underlying conditions.
It comes after the National Audit Office revealed last week hundreds of thousands of vulnerable patients were not told to shield due to out-of-date records.
Today’s announcement pours cold water on hopes lockdown could start to be eased next month, suggesting medics do not think it will be safe.
This is despite the Government smashing its target of vaccinating 15million of the most vulnerable by February 15.
There had been hopes that, once those most at risk were jabbed and developed immunity several weeks later, that the most draconian curbs could be lifted.
Of the 1.7million new shielders, 900,000 have already had their first dose because their age or medical history made them eligible during the first phase of the roll-out.
But health chiefs are now racing to immunise the 800,000 who were missed during the first wave of vaccinations. Health chiefs said they will be prioritised.
People who are shielding are advised not to leave their homes – except for brief exercise or medical appointments – because they’re at much higher risk of being hospitalised or dying if they catch the coronavirus.
Even shielders who have had their first dose of vaccine are being told to continue shielding until they have had their second shot and developed immunity from it, which happens after about three weeks after the injection.
But children who live with people who are vulnerable should still go to school when they reopen, providing they are not at risk themselves.
What is the South African variant?
The South African variant carries the E484K mutation which experts suggest may be better at evading the human immune response.
While there is no evidence that the South African variant causes more serious illness in people who become infected, there are fears that it can spread more rapidly and that vaccines may not be as effective against it.
The vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech is effective against this variant, according to a study from the US.
However, a separate study found that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab was not effective at preventing mild illness caused by the more infectious South African mutation.
But the jab will protect against deaths and severe disease amid the spread of the South African variant, according to researchers.
England’s deputy chief medical officer has said this strain is unlikely to become dominant in the UK over the coming months.
So far, at least 36 countries – including the UK, Austria, Norway and Japan – have found cases of the variant.
Why do viruses mutate?
There have been many mutations in Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, since it emerged in 2019, some more significant than others.
However, this is to be expected as this virus is an RNA virus, like the flu and measles, and these tend to mutate and change.
Mutations usually occur by chance, and the pressure on the virus to evolve is increased by the fact that so many millions of people have now been infected.
Sometimes mutations can lead to weaker versions of a virus, and it could even be that the changes are so small they have little impact on how it behaves.
If new variants spread faster it means they are likely to infect more people, increasing the number of cases.
Viruses evolve in order to survive – mutations are a simple mistake that give the virus a chance to keep infecting people.
What is a mutation?
In simple terms, a virus delivers a set of instructions into a cell in the body and the cell follows these instructions to make more new virus.
The instructions are replicated, so that each new virus that is created gets a single copy of the copied code.
Sometimes there is a mistake in the instructions, and when this virus infects a new cell it will either fail, or the virus will continue to replicate the mutated code.