France's ski slopes shut down to halt march of coronavirus
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France's ski slopes were set to close on Sunday afternoon as the government's plan to combat the spread of the coronavirus rose to level three.
"The season is over," said Domaines Skiables de France (DSF) which operates lifts and slopes throughout the country. "Holiday makers, instructors, everyone who loves skiing ... We have to do the right thing in these difficult times."
DSF's move came a few hours after the French prime minister Edouard Philippe ordered the closure of non-essential businesses such as cafes, restaurants, cinemas and gyms in an attempt to prevent a deluge of sick people in hospitals.
Spring holidays affected
On Saturday, France's education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said holiday camps and school based activities would not be open during the forthcoming Easter holidays.
Ski stations in south-eastern France such as Val Thorens and La Plagne closed soon after Philippe's announcement. Alpe d'Huez in Isère said it would shut after holiday makers had organised their departures.
"It's a big shock for the entire ski network," said Jean-Marc Silva, director of France Montagnes, an umbrella organisation for the mountain tourism industry.
"We didn't at all expect something like this to happen. The majority of the ski season is over but some stations had been planning to stay open for another six weeks. This will hit them economically."
"What's crucial now is to get people home who arrived just as the prime minister was making his announcement on Saturday night," Silva added.
Resorts in Austria, Italy and Switzerland had already shut as part of their countries' efforts to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
After President Emmanuel Macron announced the closures of creches, schools and colleges on Thursday night, ski stations were inundated with calls about whether they would be in operation.
Finding new ways of staying in touch
Sports clubs and amateur football leagues were also closed down and church services were cancelled.
"We can experiment with different ways of keeping in touch and meeting online to talk and pray," said Jonathan Clark, chaplain of St Michael's Anglican church in Paris after suspending services and activities at the church until further notice.
"We can use Facebook, WhatsApp groups, Skype, Zoom, and even use our phones to talk to people and encourage each other."
On Sunday, transport chiefs said long distance train and coach timetables would be redrafted over the coming days to accommodate shortages of staff staying at home to look after their children. The same scenario was expected for rail and bus networks in cities throughout the country.
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