“I don’t think that these rules, knowing what we know now, were sufficient” to ensure that sailors wouldn’t bring the virus back aboard, General Lecointre also told the broadcaster TF1. “The health of our men is the greatest good that we have,” he said, adding that an “essential and symbolic” military tool was now unusable.
“We have to restore this capability as quickly as possible, because it’s a vulnerability,” he said.
The Defense Ministry has ordered an internal and an epidemiological investigation, with preliminary conclusions expected in several weeks.
More than 2,000 tests carried out among the 2,300 sailors in the carrier’s naval group, which includes support vessels like a frigate and a refueling ship, found 1,081 infected crew members. Almost all were from the Charles de Gaulle, representing nearly 60 percent of its 1,746 crew members.
The episode has left relatives of the crew members reeling and many questions unanswered.
Célyne Flandrin, 29, who is married to one of the infected sailors, said in a telephone interview on Saturday: “I had been telling everybody, ‘I’m reassured, he’s in the middle of the ocean. At least he won’t get sick and I won’t be worried.’ I was kind of surprised.”
Ms. Flandrin, who lives in Toulon, the carrier’s home port, said that when her husband called after the ship returned to France last weekend, he had a cough and a sore throat. He tested positive after being hospitalized, but his health has improved and he is now in isolation on a navy base, she said.
“It’s scary, when you see the damage that it can do,” Ms. Flandrin said of the virus.
France is not the only country dealing with an outbreak of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, on one of its ships. An American sailor has died and hundreds more were infected as the virus spread on the Theodore Roosevelt, another nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.