MODRAVA, Czech Republic (Reuters) – Czechs flocking to escape coronavirus restrictions with a day’s cross-country skiing, sledding or snow-shoeing in a national park have brought a surge of Covid infections to a tiny village, a local official said.
Modrava Mayor Antonin Schubert said tests last week identified 13 positive cases among the 90 people who live there, making the hamlet that sits in central Europe’s largest forest area, the Sumava national park, the most infected in the region.
Ski lifts were closed but, with local pubs allowed to sell take-out food, crowds built up in the village, which became much more popular after Alpine resorts shut their doors.
“At every take-out window, the line of people is much bigger than if they were waiting for the ski lift,” said the mayor of the hamlet surrounded by gently rising peaks near the German and Austrian borders. “No visitor is wearing a mask.”
On a recent weekend, skiers, sledders and others — most without masks — congregated in small groups as they strapped on their gear to explore the snow-covered trails around 170 km (100 miles) from Prague.
Mountains areas across the Czech Republic have experienced similar crushes of people clogging parking lots with cars and camper vans at the weekend and creating headaches for local officials like Modrava’s mayor.
“Once I said that one of the options for lowering the number of visitors is to limit parking in the village, suddenly a wave of hysteria rose,” said Schubert, who had just left quarantine after contracting COVID.
The country of 10.7 million has been one of the worst-hit globally, with a high rate of infections and 15,453 deaths so far and many hospitals are filled to capacity.
With Czech alpine ski centers shuttered and borders with Austria, where a few resorts are open, difficult to cross, people have increasingly visited the local mountains.
A number of recent visitors to Modrava complained that closing ski lifts would not stop Covid infections and said spending time in nature was better than staying in the city.
“Considering how many people there are, I think it would be better if they opened in some ways,” Josef Novotny said as he loaded his skis into his car.
Writing by by Michael Kahn, additional reporting by Kristyna Jandova, editing by Philippa Fletcher