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COVID-19

Lourdes, dependent on pilgrims, sees economic downturn with pandemic

John Laurenson Oct 12, 2020
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Pilgrims stand in front of Our Lady of the Rosary Basilica in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes on May 16, 2020. Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Lourdes, dependent on pilgrims, sees economic downturn with pandemic

John Laurenson Oct 12, 2020
Heard on:
Pilgrims stand in front of Our Lady of the Rosary Basilica in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes on May 16, 2020. Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images
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Lourdes — one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the world — is having a bad time during the pandemic. Completely closed for two months, even with France out of lockdown, the pilgrims are only returning in tiny numbers compared with the 6 million a year who usually visit.

Pilgrims have been coming here for over a century seeking healing. They bathe in what many believe to be holy spring water.

A pilgrim in a Lourdes gift shop.
A pilgrim in a Lourdes gift shop. (John Laurenson)

Lourdes Rector Olivier Ribadeau-Dumas says almost all group pilgrimages have been canceled, leaving a big financial gap. 

“The absence of organized pilgrimages has left us with a large deficit,” he said, speaking in French.

Claudine Aubert heads the union of 130 stores in Lourdes selling what the French call “objects of piety,” including rosary beads.

“In July, sales were down 80%. In August, too. I was born in Lourdes, but I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said, speaking in French.

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COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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