By Pierre Tran
Paris – On March 18, 2020, the French air force flew six civilian patients severely hit by the deadly coronavirus in an A330 MRTT military transport jet fitted out with an onboard medical evacuation unit, the armed forces ministry said.
That was the first time the service flew its airborne hospital unit, dubbed Morpheus, in a domestic flight as the module was used to fly wounded personnel to France from distant overseas deployments.
The modular units, previously fitted on the C-135, can be equipped for intensive care as well as lighter medical conditions.
The A330 multirole tanker transport aircraft flew from Mulhouse, eastern France, and landed at Istres airbase in the south, allowing the patients to be transferred to military hospitals in Marseille and Toulon, the ministry said.
The military flight was ordered to lighten the load on hospitals in eastern France, one of the hardest hit regions, with the public health authority registering March 17 1,820 cases of coronavirus in that part of the country.
In other medical moves, armed forces minister Florence Parly told Le Parisien daily the ministry found it had five million surgical masks and was delivering them to the ministry of health and social affairs.
There has been widespread concern in the medical profession over the lack of masks, leaving the staff vulnerable to the superbug.
The ministry has also arranged for a mobile military hospital to be set up in the Alsace northeastern region.
Those limited military operations were in stark contrast to a rush of rumors and fake news stories on social media which fuelled talk of army deployment to enforce a national curfew.
A curfew has not been ordered.
Photos circulated on social media of armored vehicles on the motorway and in suburbs, with talk these would be used in the curfew.
Those photos dated from earlier times or were on routine movement.
Such was the spread of falsehoods, the armed forces junior minister, Genevieve Darrieussecq, tweeted “Stop Fake News,” saying the services would not intervene in the lock down and they were playing their part in a national effort against the epidemic.
The ministry’s website denied point by point the talk of the military taking on a greater role in the lock down.
French president Emmanuel Macron said March 16 in a live speech broadcast to the nation there would be a national lock down as of midday the next day. That restrictive measure required people to stay indoors unless going to work, had emergency needs or carried an obligatory travel document.
Some 100,000 police were mobilized to enforce the lock down, and would accept press cards in place of the travel document, the interior minister said March 16. The document can be downloaded from the internet or written out by hand.
Those breaching the lock down must pay hefty fines.
French hospitals had admitted March 18 3,626 patients, of which 931 were in intensive care, afternoon daily Le Monde reported.
The virus had claimed 264 lives, an increase of 89 deaths within 24 hours.
About half the patients with serious cases were under 60.
Featured Photo: The Morphée kit on the Airbus A330 MRTT is designed for the intensive care of up to 12 patients. Source: French Air Force