The French navy is investigating how the coronavirus infected more than 1000 sailors aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, amid growing pressure on government leaders to explain how it could have happened.
The ship, France’s biggest carrier and the flagship of its navy, is undergoing a lengthy disinfection process since returning to its home base in Toulon five days ago.
Two of four US sailors serving aboard the Charles de Gaulle as part of an exchange program also tested positive, according to a US Navy statement.
A British sailor was aboard another vessel, Cmdr Lavault said, refusing to reveal the sailor’s health status.
Cmdr Lavault insisted that the aircraft carrier’s commander sought to increase the physical distance among the crew on the vessel, where there was no testing equipment and for most of its three months on operations, no masks.
It is “very difficult to apply social distancing measures… on a combat vessel,” Cmdr Lavault said.
But “security of the crew is the first concern. A combat ship, especially an aircraft carrier, is nothing without its crew”.
A similar outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and a dispute about how the at-sea health crisis was handled led to the firing of its captain and the resignation this month of the acting US Navy secretary.
The French navy has been spared major controversy so far, but the defense minister and the head of the French military’s health service arm were questioned today about the infections at parliamentary hearings.
Defense Minister Florence Parly told lawmakers that 1081 of the 2300 people aboard the Charles de Gaulle and its escort vessels have tested positive so far – nearly half the overall personnel.
While the virus has immobilised the immense and important ship, Mr Parly insisted that otherwise “our forces continue to assure the defense of our country at sea, under the sea, on land and in the air”.
Coronavirus: what you need to know
What is the difference between COVID-19 and the flu?
The symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu are very similar, as they both can cause fever and respiratory issues.
Both infections are also transmitted the same way, via coughing or sneezing, or by contact with hands, surfaces or objects contaminated with the virus.
The speed of transmission and the severity of the infection are the key differences between COVID-19 and the flu.
The time from infection to the appearance of symptoms is typically shorter with the flu. However, there are higher proportions of severe and critical COVID-19 infections.
What is social distancing?
Social distancing involved minimising contact with people and maintaining a distance of over one metre between you and others.
When practicing social distancing, you should avoid public transport, limit non-essential travel, work from home and skip large gatherings.
It is okay to go outdoors. However, when you do leave home, avoid touching your face and frequently wash your hands.
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