France Tries to Explain More Than 1,000 Virus Cases at Sea

Nearly half the aircraft carrier's personnel test positive
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 17, 2020 6:00 PM CDT
More Than 1,000 French Sailors in Carrier Group Test Positive
The French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle arrives in the bay of Toulon, southern France, on Sunday.   (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

The French navy is investigating how the coronavirus infected more than 1,000 sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, as pressure builds on the government to explain how it happened. The ship, the navy's biggest carrier and flagship, is undergoing a weekslong disinfection since returning Sunday to its home base in Toulon. One person is in intensive care and some 20 are hospitalized, the AP reports. Two of four US sailors serving aboard the carrier as part of an exchange program also tested positive, according to a US Navy statement. A French navy spokesman insisted the commander tried to increase the physical distance among the crew. The ship had no testing equipment and, for most of its three months at sea, no masks. It is "very difficult to apply social distancing measures … on a combat vessel," Cmdr. Eric Lavault said. But "security of the crew is the first concern. A combat ship, especially an aircraft carrier, is nothing without its crew."

The defense minister told lawmakers that 1,081 of the 2,300 people aboard the Charles de Gaulle and its escort vessels have tested positive so far—nearly half of the overall personnel. An investigation to retrace the paths of the personnel is in progress. Lavault noted that the aircraft carrier made a call in the French port of Brest, on the Atlantic Ocean; had been in the North Sea as part of a "naval diplomacy" mission with NATO partners, and stopped in Cyprus during an operation in the eastern Mediterranean Sea to join in the fight against the Islamic State group. Journalists had boarded the vessel at one point. "All hypotheses are on the table,” Lavault said. (The US Navy has dealt with its own outbreak aboard ship.)

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