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COVID-19 Fears Force Police to Block Roads to Australian Ski Resorts

FILE - Lydia Lassila of Australia competes in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Coronavirus fears are prompting police in Australia to put up roadblocks to one of the country's most popular ski areas.

Police will set up roadblocks Friday to stop visitors heading to one of Australia’s most popular ski areas because of COVID-19 fears. Authorities say communities in the Kosciuszko National Park, about 500 kilometers south of Sydney would be unable to cope with large numbers of tourists because of coronavirus concerns.

Usually a long weekend at the start of winter would prompt thousands of vacationers to head to the Kosciuszko National Park, home to Australia's highest mountain. It’s popular with hikers, mountain bike riders and snow sports enthusiasts. Its three main ski resorts at Perisher, Charlotte Pass and Thredbo, though, remain in lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Park authorities say they would struggle to cope if there were a coronavirus outbreak and want visitors to stay away.

Starting Friday, highways will be closed and police roadblocks will be put in place.

Mick Pettitt is from the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“The concern is, and we have been talking to emergency services, which includes also the local medicos ((medical staff)) - they are not prepared,” said Mick Pettitt of the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service. “We are not ready yet for a large influx of people. If, for example, there was a COVID outbreak, that would put the system under huge stress.”

The official start of the ski season in New South Wales has been delayed until June 22, and many businesses fear they will not survive unless tourists can return sooner.

Popular ski areas in the neighboring state of Victoria also plan to reopen later this month. Officials predict a “bumper season,” with significant snowfalls in the main resorts, although social distancing regulations will limit the number of activities on offer. Skiing is also popular in Tasmania.

Australia is gradually winding back many of its COVID-19 restrictions, although many of its borders between states remain closed.

Australia has had 7,240 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Most patients have recovered, but 102 people have died from the virus.