French ski resorts' reopening hinges on COVID situation by January 20 - minister

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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the winter ski resort of Val d'Isere

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government will only permit ski resorts to reopen lifts if the COVID-19 situation by Jan. 20 allows for this, a minister said on Friday.

"The government's decision on Jan. 20 must by guided only by the situation of the epidemic," French junior tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said on BFM television.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday that restaurants in France would remain shuttered until at least mid-February and ski resorts might not open before the February holiday because the coronavirus was still spreading too fast and hospitals remained under severe pressure.

The chairman and chief executive of French ski resorts operator Companie des Alpes told BFM Business radio earlier on Friday that reopening ski resorts in February was a "life and death issue for some (sector) players".

"If we cannot open in February, we must face reality, the season is over," Dominique Marcel told BFM business.

The French February school holidays start on Feb.6 in some regions.

The coronavirus has claimed 66,841 lives in France, the seventh-highest death toll in the world.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Gareth Jones)