More than a thousand sailors from France’s only aircraft carrier group have now tested positive for COVID-19, Defence Minister Florence Parly says.
The outbreak on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier has raised questions about how the disease put the pride of the French navy out of action.
Ms Parly told the National Assembly’s defence committee that 2010 tests have now been carried out on sailors from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and accompanying vessels.
The Charles de Gaulle docked in Toulon on Sunday after being ordered to sail for its home port when an outbreak of the virus was suspected onboard on April 7.
The ship was nearing the end of a three-month deployment that took it and accompanying frigates and other vessels to the eastern Mediterranean, the Atlantic Sea and the North Sea.
The Charles de Gaulle had 1760 crew on board, Ms Parly said.
The group as a whole had a complement of 2700 sailors and air personnel, according to official press material.
Ms Parly said that a military investigation into command decisions had been ordered as well as an epidemiological investigation by health experts.
One possible point of origin of the infection was a port call in Brest, western France from March 13 to 16, she confirmed.
At that point, the coronavirus was already an issue of concern across France.
The country went into lockdown on March 17.
Investigative news site Mediapart has reported that sailors were allowed ashore in Brest to meet their families and no checks took place when they returned on board.
The site also charged that once the infection took hold onboard the ship, it had not been possible to isolate all the sailors showing symptoms.
Newspaper Le Figaro wrote that the outbreak on “this particularly symbolic ship… projects an unwelcome image of vulnerability”.
Ms Parly confirmed that during the call at Brest, sailors had been allowed to meet their families, whose planned visit to the ship itself had been cancelled due to the virus.
The navy’s operational command had decided to go ahead with the port call for logistical reasons and in order to carry out a partial crew rotation, she said.
“Precautions were taken to limit the risks of these outings,” she said. “We will see what the investigations say.”
Deputy Alexis Corbiere of the radical La France Insoumise party was unconvinced.
“Like others, I wanted to know how it was possible that the #CharlesdeGaulle aircraft carrier could go back to sea after a three-day call in Brest,” he wrote on Twitter after the committee hearing. “Question unanswered, the investigation is ongoing.”
The Charles de Gaulle was currently being decontaminated and was likely to be available for new missions in June, Ms Parly said.