France Sails Helicopter Carrier on Medical Mission


By Pierre Tran

Paris – The French navy sailed a helicopter carrier to the Mediterranean island of Corsica to pick up patients hit by the coronavirus infection, the armed forces ministry said March 22.

Florence Parly tweeted the arrival today of Thunder, a Mistral class helicopter carrier, at the port of Ajaccio, on the west coast of Corsica, known as the island of beauty.

“Solidarity with our medical staff,” she said.

“The services are there to protect the French.”

Parly thanked the sailors and the medical wing of the armed forces who conducted the evacuation.

Two ambulances drove on board the helicopter carrier, which had sailed from Toulon, the key naval base on the southern coast, the armed forces ministry said.

A medical team of military and civilian specialists sailed to receive the patients, who were placed in strict confinement.

The patients will be transferred to hospitals in the south of France.

The maritime mission was called to lighten the hospitals on Corsica, which had registered164 cases and seven fatalities due to coronavirus by March 19, said the local health authority, BFM TV reported.

The Mistral class is equipped with an onboard hospital, with two operating theaters and 69 beds, which can be extended. A 200-strong crew sails the warship.

The navy sailed Thunder on a humanitarian mission to the French Caribbean in 2017, when the islands of Saint Martin and Saint Bartholomew were hit by hurricane Irma. Last year, the helicopter ship diverted from the annual Joan of Arc naval mission to sail to Mozambique, after cyclone Idai  hit southern Africa.

The two other Mistral class ships, Mistral and Dixmude, are sailing in the Indian Ocean and western Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, on March 21st, the French Air Force flew a second flight of the A330 MRTT equipped with the Morpheus flying hospital unit, flying six patients to Bordeaux from Mulhouse.

The first medical flight of the A330 MRTT took place two days before, flying six patients from Mulhouse to Istres airbase, south of France.

The French air force has added a second Falcon jet to its medical evacuation flight, which now comprises six pilots and two cabin teams, a Falcon 2000LX and Falcon 900, the service said. The transport squadron flies that emergency service.

The airborne medical squadron has been stood up in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Those flight crews are trained to fly in conditions of nuclear, bacteriological, chemical and radioactive warfare, with the staff wearing protective gear and the aircraft disinfected. The pilots can fly with protective masks and gloves.

A crew from that squadron flew March 18 the A330 MRTT which brought six patients from Mulhouse, eastern France, to the south of the country

Parly visited March 18 Villacoublay airbase, just outside the capital, and met crews of the two specialist units. Parly said the services would support the national effort, especially the air force and its medical evacuation capability.

The army is setting up tents for its field hospital in the car park of the public hospital in Mulhouse.

That field hospital, equipped with 30 beds for intensive care, is intended to take some of the pressure off the staff in the general hospital, which is struggling to cope with the intake of stricken patients.

Specialists in the Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office are testing safety masks proposed by companies, with some 700 samples received for tests. Results of tests are expected in the next few days, the ministry said.

The defense innovation agency has set a €10 million budget for a tender for projects to fight the pandemic, looking for ways to protect and test the population, track the course of illness in a patient, or how to limit the constraints during the health crisis, the ministry said.

The ministry has stood up five of the eight military hospitals around the country, with some 100 beds in each hospital set aside for patients with coronavirus, of which 40 are for severe cases. The ministry closed the noted Val de Grâce hospital in the capital in 2016.

The number of fatalities in France rose almost 20 percent to 562 over Friday and Saturday, with 6,172 in hospital, of which 1,525 are in intensive care, Le Monde afternoon daily reported March 22.

The first hospital doctor in France has died while treating coronavirus.

“This is a war, it will last,” president Emmanuel Macron said in Journal de Dimanche, a Sunday paper.

There was need to protect the most vulnerable and the health system, as well as control the stress on society, he said.

There was also need to tackle an unprecedented financial crisis and crisis in the underlying economy.

Featured Photo: Hospital facilities aboard Mistral-class LHD Tonnerre. File picture: ©Emmanuelle Mocquillon/Marine Nationale/Défense