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Corona virus Update 1st March 2020

Monday 2nd March 2020

We have learnt today, (1st March), that in view of the increased risk posed by Coronavirus, HCPT have reluctantly cancelled their pilgrimage to Lourdes at Easter. Several other UK pilgrimages are contemplating doing the same and UNITALSI, the Italian pilgrimage organisation, has postponed trips until late in May at the earliest. The evidence thus far emerging from China suggests that there is an increased risk to those who are elderly and who suffer with chronic ill-health, especially cardiorespiratory disease. Obviously, these are the very people we look to bring as sick pilgrims.

Apart from the possibility of contracting the virus and the risk that entails, there is also the very real possibility of some or all of a pilgrimage group becoming quarantined for up to 14 days while abroad and we understand that this has also been a factor in decision-making by those pilgrimages who are booked to travel early in the season.

Here is an English translation of an email sent yesterday to Pilgrimage Directors with the latest advice from Lourdes Sanctuary, which confirms that at the present time the authorities in Lourdes are optimistic that the pilgrimage season will prevail. However, it is not possible to predict what may come to pass in the next days and weeks and, if there is a significant increase in the number of cases either here or in France, it is quite possible that one or both Governments might apply additional restrictions to travel, and to mass-gatherings.

Pilgrimage directors are receiving regular updates from the Sanctuary and UK Government healthcare websites. There is no current advice from the UK government to cancel non-essential travel to France. As clinicians it will be important that we each advise our pilgrimage organisations regarding the particular risks relating to our pilgrimage and help them to arrive at a decision based on the best information available. This may include undertaking a risk stratification exercise for our applicants and declining to take certain individuals; it may also involve alterations to travel arrangements, et cetera, in order to mitigate risk. Finally, it may involve deciding to postpone the trip.

Clearly, for some pilgrimages, these discussions need to be taken without delay. Others can afford to delay decisions but should begin weighing up the options.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

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