The Italian government has abruptly delayed opening Italy's beloved ski season because a coronavirus variant was detected in a good portion of recently infected persons in the country.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza's ordinance forbidding amateur skiing at least until March 5 effectively kills the hopes of ski lift operators and resort owners they would be able to salvage part of the season.
The ski business is a big source of winter tourism in Italy and the news came on the eve of the expected opening.
The ministry said analyses of virus samples indicated that a variant first found in Britain is sickening 18 per cent of recently infected people in Italy.
France and Germany had adopted similar measures in the ski sector due to the "worry for the spread of this and other variants of the virus", it said.
The ski industry swiftly lamented that they have repeatedly prepared slopes and lifts, only to have been denied permission to open, including just before the year-end holidays.
The day-old government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi quickly promised compensation.
The announcement came after the regions of Tuscany, Liguria, Abruzzo and Trentino were placed under tighter restrictions for at least 15 days.
They were designated so-called orange zones, meaning bars and restaurants have to close and locals cannot leave the area surrounding their homes except in emergencies.
Italy, with more than 93,000 confirmed virus deaths, has Europe's second-highest known death toll in the pandemic after Britain.