Coronavirus: France quarantines entire aircraft carrier crew

The French navy's flagship was forced to cut short its operation in the Mediterranean and three sailors have been hospitalised

TOPSHOT - French navy soldiers wearing face masks stand onboard the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle on April 12, 2020, as it arrives in the southern French port of Toulon with sailors onboard infected with COVID-19 (novel coronavirus). Fifty sailors aboard the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, the flagship of the French navy, have contracted the novel coronavirus the armed forces ministry said on April 11. The nuclear-powered ship arrived in Toulon on April 12 so that those infected can begin a period of quarantine on dry land, according to the ministry.

 / AFP / Christophe SIMON
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France on Monday quarantined the entire crew of the aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle after 50 cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed on board.

The unprecedented operation to isolate 1,900 sailors aboard the nuclear-powered vessel began on Sunday, France's defence ministry said.

From Tuesday, the ship itself will also be the subject of a major disinfection operation, it added.

The flagship of the French navy docked in the southern port of Toulon after cutting short its current mission in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic by 10 days because of the outbreak.

Local authorities said a painstaking operation was now underway by land and sea to evacuate 1,900 sailors to ensure there was no risk of any further infection.

Three sailors had already been evacuated to hospital in Toulon as a "precaution" before the ship docked.

All the personnel will be tested and they will then be put into isolation for two weeks, with no physical contact allowed with their families, said the spokeswoman for the regional authorities, Christine Ribbe.

"Our aim is to protect all our sailors and also their families with an unprecedented deployment," she added. Only once the isolation period is over will the sailors be allowed home.

The evacuation of the Charles de Gaulle follow a highly publicised outbreak aboard a US aircraft carrier which resulted in the resignation of US Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly.

Mr Modly stepped down last week Tuesday, five days after removing the USS Theodore Roosevelt's captain, Brett Crozier, for writing a letter describing the stricken vessel's dire situation and alleging the Pentagon was not paying adequate attention to it.

On Monday, a sailor assigned to the ship died from complications related Covid-19, the US Navy said in a statement.

So far, about 585 sailors aboard the nuclear-powered carrier have tested positive for the coronavirus.

About 4,000 sailors have been moved from the carrier to facilities in Guam, where the ship has been docked after the number of cases started increasing.

The USS Theodore Roosevelt is one of four nuclear-powered carriers that have been forced back to port after crew members contracted coronavirus.

The British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to set sail in April despite fears it could face the same fate as its French and US counterparts.

The recently-built ship is due to leave harbour in Portsmouth on April 27 with a crew of 600 on board.

“We continue to conduct sensible and proportionate planning to ensure the welfare of our personnel is protected, while maintaining essential operational duties,” Britain's Royal Navy said.