Defense Minister Florence Parly’s revelation on Tuesday to a Senate commission of inquiry is yet another blow to the credibility of the government of French President Emmanuel Macron as it battles rebounding infections.
Health Minister Olivier Veran is expected to announce new restrictions on gatherings on Wednesday as the number of virus cases and hospitalizations rise.
With more than 31,400 confirmed deaths linked to the virus, France has the third highest death toll in Europe after Britain and Italy. France now reports around 10,000 new infections per day.
The Minister of Defense told public broadcaster France-2 in March that all military personnel on the evacuation flight “had been tested and contained” upon their return. But as both chambers of the French parliament investigated the government’s handling of the pandemic, doubts were raised about this version of events.
A senator from the Oise, Olivier Paccaud, insisted on Parly on what exactly happened with the soldiers in Creil during a hearing on Tuesday.
“Do you maintain that these personnel have been tested and confined? Was there not some negligence in the way the soldiers were treated upon their return from Wuhan? He asked. “The inhabitants of Oise want the truth.
Parly replied: “I said something incorrect on March 4 on France-2. ”
“The crew was under an extremely strict health protocol, but which, in fact, did not involve testing,” she said.
She said there was “probably no” chance that the air base was responsible for the Oise cluster, noting that regional health authorities later discovered a possible case dated January 14, two weeks before the evacuation flight. She insisted that Air Force personnel did not stay in Wuhan and have no direct contact with the evacuated passengers.
Health officials said the virus was probably circulating widely in France earlier than authorities realized, due to limited testing and knowledge about COVID-19 earlier this year.
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