France discovers more than 1,000 cases of virus on an aircraft carrier

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PARIS (AP) – The French navy is investigating how the coronavirus infected more than 1,000 sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, while pressure on government officials was explaining how it could have happened.

The ship, the leading French transporter and flagship of its navy, has been being disinfected since its return to Toulon five days ago.

One person is still in intensive care and about 20 others hospitalized, Navy spokesman Cmdr. Eric Lavault told the Associated Press.

Two of the four American sailors serving on the Charles de Gaulle as part of an exchange program were also tested positive, according to a press release from the US Navy. A British sailor was on board another ship, said Lavault, refusing to disclose his condition.

Lavault insisted that the captain of the aircraft carrier seek to increase the physical distance between the crew on board the ship, where there was no test equipment, and for most of his three months of operations, no mask.

It is “very difficult to apply social distancing … on a combat ship,” said Lavault. But “the safety of the crew is the first concern. A combat ship, especially an aircraft carrier, is nothing without its crew. “

A similar epidemic on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and a dispute over how the offshore health crisis was handled led to the dismissal of its captain and the resignation this month of the acting secretary of the US Navy.

The French Navy has so far been spared major controversy, but the Minister of Defense and the head of the health services branch of the French army were questioned Friday about the infections during parliamentary hearings.

Defense Minister Florence Parly told lawmakers that 1,081 of the 2,300 people on board the Charles de Gaulle and its escort ships have so far tested positive – nearly half of the total staff.

While the virus has immobilized the huge and important ship, Parly insisted that otherwise “our forces continue to defend our country at sea, underwater, on land and in the air.”

An investigation to retrace the trajectories of the personnel is in progress. Lavault noted that the aircraft carrier had made a call in the French port of Brest, on the Atlantic Ocean, in the North Sea as part of a “naval diplomacy” mission with NATO partners, and had stopped in Cyprus during an operation in the eastern Mediterranean to join the fight against the Islamic State group.

The journalists had boarded the vessel at one point.

“All the assumptions are on the table,” said Lavault.

So far, 350 crew members have been burned out on their movements on and off the ship, according to Lavault.

The defense minister defended the decision to authorize the ship to stop in Brest in mid-March, when France had already ordered the closure of all schools to fight the virus and the government was preparing containment measures. A few hours after the ship’s departure, President Emmanuel Macron announced one of the strictest national locks in Europe.

With almost 2,000 sailors on the aircraft carrier alone, there is a constant flow of people who attend the infirmary. In the North Sea, temperatures have sometimes dropped to -5 degrees Celsius (23 F), he said.

The number of infections “increased exponentially” between about April 4 and 5, and lung tests were done on suspected cases, Lavault said.

“It was from this date that the commander decided to alert the Navy headquarters to propose to end the operation, a decision taken immediately by the Minister (of Defense),” he said. -he declares.

The aircraft carrier returned to its home port at the Mediterranean port of Toulon on April 12.

“We are and will be transparent” about the health situation, said director of health Maryline Gygax Genero to the parliamentary committee.

Lavault said the carrier was cleaned from top to bottom, first with high pressure water at 60 ° C (140 ° F), then with an antiviral product, a process that could take weeks. He said the goal was to return the carrier to sea in May.

France is one of the countries hardest hit by the virus, with more than 18,000 deaths confirmed on Friday and more than 100,000 cases reported. While France begins a second month of detention, the head of the national health agency said Friday that the country was witnessing a “slow but steady drop” in the virus, the number of hospitalizations and people in intensive care continuing to fall.

This article was written by JEFFREY SCHAEFFER and ELAINE GANLEY of The Associated Press and has been legally authorized by the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected]

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