10.08.2020 Europe

Pilgrim site Lourdes to benefit from France's extended Covid rescue package

© AFP/Archives
LISTEN AUG 10, 2020
© AFP/Archives

France's economy and finance minister Bruno Le Maire has announced an extension to a special aid package to help the country's tourism industry, heavily affected by economic crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. He made the announcements from the southwestern French city of Lourdes, two days before its national annual pilgrimage.

Le Maire visited the city of Lourdes (Hautes-Pyrénées) on Monday accompanied by minister of tourism Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne and the minister for small and medium business Alain Griset.

They met with local business owners and tour operators to announce an extension to a government rescue package designed to stabilise several sectors of the economy hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis.

The visit comes two days before the city prepares to host the annual pilgrimage which will see a drastic slow down due to the absence of overseas tourists who flock to the region each year.

Lourdes is the site where it is said the Holy Mother of God appeared 18 times to Bernadette Soubirous, in the Grotto of Masabielle, in 1858. Pilgrims are invited to drink from the fountain of holy water and join three days of prayer.

"Lourdes is a town which has been particularly affected by the economic crisis," Le Maire told the press, "with some businesses losing up to 85 percent of their revenue. The town has seen a 70% to 80% drop in its usual activities."

"We are going to expand the aid package in place designed to help the tourism sector, notably by extending it to cover dedicated pilgrim-related souvenir shops," he explained.

Shopping arcades, shopping centres, and airport souvenir shops will be covered by the aid package, as will translators and interpreters in airports.

Artists, water transport companies, the sports betting sector and companies with labels for quality regional products will also be eligible for the plan.

The aid package, which has been extended until the end of the year includes a first payment of €1,500 per month to cover for a loss of sales up to 50% compared to the same period last year, and possibly a second payment of €10,000 to "help pay for the rent," Le Maire announced.

It also covers partial unemployment benefits for workers in the sector until the end of the year and companies are exonerated from paying social security taxes for the next four months.

The original plan, launched on 14 May also includes an access to loans guaranteed by the state for professionals in the tourism sector, worth some €200 million.

In the new "seasonal" rescue plan, launched on 5 August, loans guaranteed by the state will be made accessible to shop owners in Lourdes who had missed out on the original plan.

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