Sister André has lived through the 1918 flu pandemic, two World Wars and “many sad events,” she once said. As Europe’s oldest known person, she turns 117 on Thursday and has now accomplished another feat: defeating the coronavirus, with barely any complication.
“She’s recovered, along with all the residents here,” said David Tavella, the spokesman at the Ste. Catherine Labouré nursing home in Toulon, a city in southeastern France, where Sister André lives. “She is calm, very radiant and she is quite looking forward to celebrating her 117th birthday,” he said, adding that the home’s most famous resident was resting on Wednesday and needed a break from interviews.
The coronavirus swept through the nursing home last month, just as nurses began consulting residents about vaccinations; 81 of its 88 residents became infected, including Sister André, and 11 eventually died.
Mr. Tavella said that until last month no case had been detected in the nursing home since the beginning of the pandemic. Still, the outbreak was a stark reminder that the virus has been devastating in places where the most vulnerable reside, even with stringent restrictions that have turned many care homes into fortresses.
Sister André remained isolated for weeks and felt a bit “patraque,” or off color, Mr. Tavella said, but she blamed the virus and not her age. She slept more than usual, but she prayed and remained asymptomatic. This week, she became the oldest known person to have survived Covid-19.
“She kept telling me, ‘I’m not afraid of Covid because I’m not afraid of dying, so give my vaccine doses to those who need them,’” Mr. Tavella said.
Sister André’s story has made headlines in France, providing some uplifting news in a country where thousands of nursing home residents have died.
France began vaccinating health care workers this week, but the authorities have faced criticism for a sluggish rollout as France continues to struggle with a rising number of infections, and no end to restrictions in sight. As of Wednesday, 2.2 million people had been vaccinated, less than 3 percent of the population.
In other developments around the world:
The coronavirus variant first detected in Britain is going “to sweep the world, in all probability,” the director of the country’s genetic surveillance program, Sharon Peacock, told the BBC on Thursday. The variant, known as B.1.1.7., has been detected in 75 countries, including the United States.