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Four killed in Austrian avalanches

Four people have been killed in avalanches in the Austrian state of Tyrol over the weekend.

Four killed in Austrian avalanches
Is the pandemic to blame for Austria's avalanche deaths? Photo: ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP

Avalanches killed four people in western Austria's Tyrol region over the weekend, police said Monday.

Austria's ski resorts have remained open despite the country's third coronavirus lockdown as the government says outdoor sports pose little infection risk.

But authorities in the Tyrol region had warned on Thursday of an increased risk of avalanches due to rain and snowfall combined with strong winds and changes in temperature.

A 37-year-old man and a 38-year-old woman, both from the region, “set off an avalanche at an altitude of 2,100 metres (6,890 feet)” in the Sellrain district on Saturday, the Tyrol police department said in a statement.

“They were both totally buried by the avalanche and their bodies could only be recovered on the evening of January 31,” the statement said. On Saturday the police had announced the death of a 16-year-old German boy in the Kuehtai area.

He did not have any detection equipment and was skiing off piste with two friends at an altitude of more than 2,600 metres when he was struck by loose snow.

A 48-year-old Austrian was also killed by an avalanche on Saturday while cross-country skiing in the resort of Axamer Lizum. Four further avalanches were also reported in Tyrol on Saturday but did not cause any deaths.

In recent years an average of around 20 people have been killed annually by avalanches in Austria.

For the winter of 2019/20 the number was lower, at 13, in part due to the season being cut short by the first coronavirus lockdown.

Is the pandemic to blame for avalanche deaths?

In neighbouring Switzerland, where higher than average number of avalanche deaths have occurred this winter, experts have blamed the coronavirus pandemic along with harsher than usual weather conditions. 

The pandemic has cut mobility and brought tourism almost to a standstill, but some experts have argued that lockdowns and other coronavirus measures have contributed to the higher than usual death rate. 

READ: Is the pandemic to blame for Switzerland's spate of avalanche deaths? 

As reported in Switzerland’s Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the one commonality between all of the fatal accidents is that they happened ‘off piste’, i.e. not on the secured slopes where the vast majority of skiers ski. 

With many concerned about the potential for contracting the virus – and with ski resorts experiencing record popularity – the idea of going off piste has become more attractive. 

READ MORE: Large crowds on Swiss ski slopes spark concern over coronavirus spread 

But with Switzerland experiencing significant snowfall in recent weeks, the risk of avalanches has grown. 

 

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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