Most of the 1,081 sailors from the French aircraft carrier ‘Charles de Gaulle’ diagnosed with COVID-19 are now free of the virus after it was detected following a NATO exercise involving a British frigate.
According to the French Navy, only two sailors are still in hospital and 18 others are in isolation.
In total, 1,081 of the over 2,400 sailors aboard France’s flagship vessel and its escort had tested positive for coronavirus after a NATO exercise off the coast of Denmark that had involved the British Navy.
A spokesperson for the Navy said on Monday evening (4th May) that nearly all those who had tested positive for COVID-19 have either left hospital or have been allowed to leave their barracks, adding that “98 percent of the positive cases of the aeronaval group are now cured”.
The captain of the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, Eric Lavault, is quoted in local media as saying that “there are only two sailors left in hospital” including “one officer who is in intensive care” and a second sailor who is being watched closely.
He added that “some are in isolation at home” while others “came out less than seven days ago and are at home wearing masks” as a precaution. Eighteen sailors in total are still confined to barracks in the southern French port city of Toulon in the Var department.
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According to the Navy, the coronavirus is believed to have made its way on board during a stop in Brest, in the north-western department of Brittany, in mid-March.
There are currently two investigations underway to determine the causes of the infection on the ship and the way the crisis was handled, which caused the Charles de Gaulle to cut its mission short and return to port in mid-April.
A sailor who was on the French aircraft carrier which suffered a COVID-19 outbreak had said his superiors had “played with our lives”, claiming the captain was refused an early docking.
The ship had been on a three-month mission which included the NATO training but had not been in contact with an external element after a stopover in Brest in Brittany, in north-western France, during which a relief crew of around 50 people boarded the ship and hundreds of sailors went ashore, according to media reports.
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One crew member, who has not been named in reports but had tested positive, told radio station France Bleu that the commander of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier had proposed to stop the ship’s mission when they docked in Brest from 13th to 16th March.
According to the sailor, at the time several sailors were already showing symptoms of the coronavirus and the commander would have liked to confine the crew immediately.
However, he says the proposal was refused by the Ministry of the Armed Forces, adding: “The army played with our health, our life. We should have stayed in Brest… All this lacks transparency. The distancing measures were difficult to comply with onboard.”
The ship reportedly continued on its planned voyage before docking in Toulon on southern France’s Mediterranean coast, where some of the sailors were evacuated.
Chief of the Navy Staff Christophe Prazuck “ordered a command investigation to draw all the lessons learned from the management of the outbreak within the naval air group”.
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