Skiers return to Slovenian resort after lockdown eases


People ski on the slopes of Kanin after the Slovenian government called an official end to the country's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Kanin, Slovenia, May 17, 2020. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic

KANIN, Slovenia (Reuters) - Hundreds of skiers hit the slopes at Slovenia's highest ski resort on Sunday after it reopened following a coronavirus lockdown that lasted nearly two months.

Slovenia became the first European country on Thursday to declare an official end to its coronavirus epidemic.

The small mountainous country of around two million people has so far reported 1,466 coronavirus cases and 104 deaths. Slovenes still have to respect social distancing and are obliged to wear face masks in indoor public spaces as well as disinfect their hands when entering such areas.

There were about 200 skiers at the Kanin resort on Sunday morning, with up to 300 expected during the whole day. The resort lies in western Slovenia, close to the border with Italy, and boasts a snow cover of at least 3.5 meters depth at present.

"Unique, fantastic, the weather, the snow, the silence, the air, being free," said Barbara and Franci, a couple from the capital Ljubljana.

Slovenia started easing its lockdown measures on April 20. Public transport resumed on May 11 and Kanin ski resort reopened on May 14. All shops and restaurants will be able to reopen on Monday when some pupils will also return to schools.

"The hardest thing (during the epidemic) was that I could not be fully active in sports and I can feel today that I am a bit out of condition," said Omer, another skiier from Ljubljana.

Although the government has provided financial help to citizens and companies hit by the coronavirus, tourist centres have seen a sharp fall in their income due to the coronavirus epidemic and the resulting lockdown.

The government expects Slovenia's economy to shrink by at least 8% this year after a 2.4% expansion in 2019.

(Reporting by Borut Zivulovic, writing by Marja Novak; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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