A lapse of judgement by the French authorities in managing coronavirus cases aboard the Navy’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier including treating it like the H1N1 flu, lead to a massive COVID-19 outbreak on the ship.
“In the light of information that we have today — I insist on the word today — there were mistakes in the assessment of measures in the fight against coronavirus. The error was to treat the virus like the H1N1 flu which had hit the carrier in 2009, and to continue the mission while the infection was on board,” Florence Parly, the minister of the armed forces told parliamentarians.
“Coronavirus is not H1N1 flu,” the minister stressed.
The deadly virus infected 1,046 out of 1,760 Charles de Gaulle sailors. The first clear sign of the virus on board was an officer testing COVID-19 positive on April 5. The officer had visited Denmark March 30.
Lack of ministerial coordination and sharing of information was behind the two-day delay in recalling the vessel carrying infected crew, Parly admitted.
The carrier task force sailed out of Toulon port in January 21, conducted operations in Iraq and Syria, and called in February 21-26 at Limassol, Cyprus. It reached France’s Brest port around mid-March just before the country went into a strict lockdown.
“After sailing from Cyprus, the carrier received personnel and equipment, with flights from Sicily, the Spanish Balearic islands, Spain, and Portugal,” she said.
“The stopover in Brest is therefore not the cause of the first introduction of the virus on board. Investigation reveals that it was the occasion for the reintroduction of it (COVID-19) and that it has been a factor in accelerating its spread,” Parly said.