Out on operations, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is interrupting its current deployment, after tens of covid-19 cases reported on board. France had previously announced that its military readiness was unaffected by the ongoing crisis – a stance which will therefore need to be amended now that the country’s crown jewel is entering quarantine.
Nearly 40 cases of suspected coronavirus infections have been reported, although naval command is still to receive medical confirmation. Symptoms consistent with an on-board Covid-19 infection sufficed for a medical examination team to be sent to the carrier, in order to assist with detection, patient management and to help contain contamination within the densely populated environment of the aircraft carrier. The carrier group was initially planned to tour until April 23rd, but was called back to its home base in Toulon, as it was passing the coast of Portugal. Initial cases, which amounted to false alarms, were reported in March, as the carrier group was coasting near Denmark.
Warships are particularly delicate environments for sanitary conditions, with extreme proximity between crew members and tightly packed quarters. Command implemented similar measures as those recommended or imposed on dry land, with meetings reduced to a strict minimum and increased cleaning procedures, but to no avail in the case of the Charles de Gaulle.
Despite Paris’ announcement that France’s military readiness was unaffected by the crisis, several operations have been suspended, called off, postponed or reduced in size, due to the fear of fostering the pandemic. So far, 600 coronavirus cases have been reported within French ranks. The Defense minister is facing fire within the public opinion, for lack of transparency and discrepancies between her communication and what can be observed in reality.
This scenario is akin to the USS Theodore Roosevelt story which has been feeding American headlines for weeks. Admiral Crozier, in command of the US aircraft carrier, was relieved from duty after sending an alarmed email regarding infection cases on his ship, which found its way to the press.
A modern aircraft carrier carries extensive medical facilities within its hull, enabling it to cope with an epidemic. However, additional cases are likely to become apparent, before and after the aircraft returns to its base in Toulon.