The French Navy Deals with Covid-19


By Pierre Tran

Paris – Around a third of the sailors on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier have shown infection by coronavirus, with one sailor placed under intensive care in a Toulon military hospital, the armed forces ministry said April 15 in a statement.

The navy chief of staff, admiral Christophe Prazuck, has launched a formal enquiry into how the spread of the pandemic on the carrier was managed.

“By the evening of April 14, 1,767 sailors of the carrier strike group have been tested,” the ministry said. “Six hundred and sixty eight have shown to be positive.”

The vast majority of tests for Covid 19 so far conducted were on sailors of the carrier, with 30 percent of the tests yet to be examined, the ministry said. Thirty one sailors have been admitted to military hospital in Toulon, southern France, with one of those receiving intensive care.

The tests are continuing.

Some 1,700 sailors and personnel sailed on board the Charles de Gaulle capital ship and some 200 sailors on the frigate escort, Chevalier Paul, on the operation Foch.

Almost 600 sailors who sailed the US carrier Theodore Roosevelt have been hit by the virus, and one sailor has died. The infection spread through the crew while the carrier was at sea in the Pacific, and the then captain had sought an early return.

Naval inquiry

The formal command enquiry ordered by Prazuck, a former navy chief press officer, may address strong feeling reported to be felt among sailors, who are in a 14-day quarantine at Toulon naval base and in bases in nearby Saint-Mandrier and Hyères.

A sailor who had been on board the carrier said he was “angry,” France Bleu local radio reported from Toulon. “The services played with our health, our life.”

The captain of the Charles de Gaulle had asked for an early return to base when the carrier docked at Brest, northwest France, said the sailor, infected by the virus.

There were already sailors showing signs of the virus and the captain wanted to place the crew into isolation immediately, the sailor said. The ministry declined the captain’s request, the sailor said.

The navy chief of staff has ordered a command enquiry to learn all the lessons on  management of the epidemic in the air-naval group, the ministry said. That included the conditions for the virus on board the aircraft carrier, a ministry spokesman said.

The enquiry will take several  weeks, France Bleu reported.

There were no Covid 19 symptoms reported to the medical service when the carrier was at Brest, said a senior naval doctor, Ouest France regional paper reported. The carrier docked into the naval base in northwest France mid March.

The command on the carrier was overtaken by events, with two sailors showing signs of the virus without being put into confinement, Mediapart website reported.

The Charles de Gaulles is not just a warship capable of strategic missions but a highly political statement, the pride of the French services in which show of force is a communications tool, Mediapart said.

Pilots in quarantine

Pilots who flew the carrier-borne Hawkeye airborne warning and control system platform, Rafale fighter jets and helicopters are going through 14-day quarantine on their own bases, the ministry said.

At Brest naval base, tests on the crew of the anti-submarine frigate La Motte Picquet have come up negative, allowing the sailors to go into confinement at home, the ministry said.

Tests on the crew of the fleet auxiliary tanker, Somme, have led to some 60 sailors held in strict isolation at the base as a precautionary measure, while some 100 sailors have gone home for quarantine.

The navy is cleaning warships and aircraft, drawing on joint military and civilian teams.

The Charles de Gaulle was the flagship of operation Foch, which had been due to sail for three months, with the carrier task force previously planned to return April 23 to Toulon after sailing out January 21.

The operation had sailed in the eastern Mediterranean and the North Sea, and reportedly docked at Brest March 13-16.

A command enquiry is a formal internal or administrative investigation which seeks to identify a dysfunction or risk which might change the functioning of organizations or services, according to the official journal.

France has recorded 17,167 deaths due to coronavirus, with 10,643 dying in hospital and 6,524 in care homes, afternoon daily Le Monde reported April 16.

That excludes those who died at home.

More than two million people around the world have been confirmed as suffering from Covid 19, breaking a highly symbolic threshold, according to John Hopkins university.

Some 138,487 have died, while 528,300 have recovered.