French aircraft carrier returns to port amid possible coronavirus outbreak; countrywide deaths surpass 10,000

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A French aircraft carrier headed back to port Wednesday after dozens of sailors showed possible coronavirus symptoms, France’s defense ministry announced, as the nation surpassed the grim milestone of 10,000 virus-related deaths.

The Charles de Gaulle, the flagship of the French navy and its sole aircraft carrier, has around 40 troops onboard who may have COVID-19, the ministry said in a statement.

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“They have been placed in isolated confinement out of precaution.” French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said.

The nuclear-powered carrier was on a mission in the Atlantic Ocean when signs of the apparent outbreak forced it to immediately return to base in the port of Toulon, on the Mediterranean coast. It was originally expected to dock there April 23.

A medical team will board the carrier Wednesday, and conduct tests to confirm the potential cases and prevent the virus from further spreading among the 1,900 sailors onboard, the ministry said.

France's defense ministry announced that French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is heading back to port amid possible virus outbreak onboard. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)

France’s defense ministry announced that French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is heading back to port amid possible virus outbreak onboard. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)

The announcement comes after a coronavirus outbreak hit U.S. aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, now at port in Guam. As of Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said at least 230 crew had tested positive. The firing of the Roosevelt’s captain last week created a firestorm in the country that attracted the attention of President Trump.

Meanwhile, France’s health officials warned that the country’s outbreak has not yet hit its apex as the number of fatalities climbed to 10,328 Wednesday.

“We are in the epidemic’s ascendant stage … we have not yet reached the peak,” National Health Director Jerome Salomon told reporters.

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There have been 7,091 hospital deaths and 3,237 fatalities in nursing homes since the outbreak began, he said. More than 30,000 people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 nationwide, with 7,131 in intensive care.

Despite the increasing numbers, Salomon acknowledged that the virus rate “is slowing a little.”

Mayors of towns and cities across France this week imposed further measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, mandating that citizens wear face masks in public and banning outdoor exercise during the day.

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France has been under lockdown since March 17.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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