Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Questions posed by the potential Covid-19 epidemic on the aircraft carrier “Charles de Gaulle”

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Illustration of Charles de Gaulle – Fred Tanneau / AFP

  • The nuclear aircraft carrier is currently off the coast of Portugal. She left on January 21 and has 1,760 crew members on board. At the end of the mission, he was expected in Toulon on April 23 but he will return a week earlier following the epidemic on board.
  • The French Navy recognizes “about forty cases” but specifies “they are not serious”. Currently, the Army cannot explain the presence of the virus on the Charles de Gaulle.

A potential coronavirus epidemic on board a French Navy vessel, and not least: the legendary aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. This is the announcement that was made by the Ministry of the Armed Forces this Wednesday morning. One of the most feared scenarios, when we know that the Charles de Gaulle is a vast enclosed space in which hundreds of French sailors rub shoulders in a certain promiscuity.
An epidemic which also raises many questions. 20 minutes make the point.

How many coronavirus patients are on board?

“Forty sailors are today under enhanced medical observation, wrote the ministry in a press release. They have symptoms consistent with possible Covid-19 infection. These first symptoms have appeared recently ”. When exactly? What exact figure? When contacted, the French Navy was unable to provide these details, but wanted to be reassuring. “There are only about 40 cases, which are not serious,” said Colonel Frédéric Barbry, spokesman for the Army Staff.

As a reminder, currently in the Atlantic off Portugal, the nuclear aircraft carrier had left since January 21 and has 1,760 crew members on board. At the end of the mission, he was expected in Toulon on April 23.

How to explain the presence of this virus on board?

The question, however crucial, remains an enigma for the time being, including for the Army itself. An epidemiological team from the Armed Forces Health Service (SSA) has been dispatched on board and will in particular have the function of answering this question through a thorough investigation. “The urgency is to take stock of the situation,” said Colonel Frédéric Barbry.

According to the colonel, the last contact outside took place last month. Between March 13 and 19, Charles de Gaulle made a stopover in Brest. “At the time, the French went to the polling stations and the country was not in the logic of
confinement, even less in a logic of population testing, recalls Colonel Barbry. However, we had canceled the planned family day, given the situation. All transfers had been canceled and measures had been taken to limit contact. “

What measures will be taken on board to prevent the spread?

“As of today, a screening team with testing facilities will be dispatched to the aircraft carrier to investigate the cases and prevent the spread of the virus on board the ship,” said a ministry statement.

Important sanitary measures have been taken on board, such as the disinfection of handrails and door handles, or the reduction of the number of meetings and participants in these meetings. A section of the front of the 127-person vessel was insulated to accommodate the confined sailors. The area has been depressed, using methods already used by the helicopter carrier Thunder when he had evacuated patients from Corsica in late March, according to a military source at the AFP.

Is the boat equipped to deal with an epidemic?

Masks have been distributed as a preventive measure to those who may have symptoms. What about the others? “There are surgical masks on board, like in any hospital, but I don’t know how many, and if there are FFP2 masks,” said Colonel Barbry.

The medical team includes around twenty caregivers (doctors, nurses, surgeons), who have a hospital room with a dozen beds, respirators and a scanner. “It’s a real little town, with a hospital on board designed for war medicine and treating combat wounded,” said Colonel Barbry. No hospital on such a military ship has been designated to deal with an epidemic, but just like Mulhouse Hospital was not necessarily prepared for an epidemic of coronavirus. “

Why hasten the return of the aircraft carrier to Toulon?

The Charles de Gaulle has had his return date extended to next week, instead of April 23 originally scheduled. He “was already going home, he is short,” said the cabinet of Minister Florence Parly to the AFP, noting that this “common sense decision” posed no strategic or operational problem. But in what perspective precisely? “It’s an Army decision,” said Colonel Barbry. What about the sailors when they arrived? Will they be able to find their families? “It is too early to tell,” said Colonel Barbry.



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