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Staff returning from Wuhan have not been tested, admits Florence Parly

(B2) Grilled by the commission of inquiry into the consequences of Covid-19, the French Minister for the Armed Forces admitted a small inaccuracy

Florence Parly recognizes an inaccuracy (flow: Senate, selection B2)

The minister was questioned on Tuesday (September 22) as part of the hearings of the Senate committee of inquiry on Covid-19. She did not seem very comfortable, even less when it was the turn of the senator from Oise

The air base of Creil in the hot seat

The minister was put to the test when it was the turn of Olivier Paccaud, senator (related LR) of Oise. " Maintain that these personnel have been tested and confined. Wasn't there negligence in the way these soldiers were treated on their return from Wuhan? wondered this professor of history and geography by training, a Gaullist at heart, who for several years was Olivier Dassault's chief of staff (and deputy). According to him, the containment was relatively loose. " Soldiers stayed at home, on leave. We did not control the comings and goings, nor of their families. Some personnel lived on the base, moved there and went to the mess he assures us, quoting the former commander of the Creil air base 110 interviewed shortly before (1). In addition, sailors from the BCR Somme, who passed through the Creil base, intervened at the Crépy-en-Valois high school, where one of the first fatal cases in France was detected (2).

Crews not tested

« Having sworn to tell the whole truth, I must tell you that I said something inaccurate on March 4 to France 2 “Admitted Florence Parly. She said then that the 18 Esterel personnel who ensured the repatriation " have been tested. They were not carriers of the virus. ".

A shortcut...

Today, she recognizes it: It was a shortcut. What happened was that the crews returning from Wuhan (China) were subjected to an extremely strict health protocol, but which, in fact, did not include tests at the time. [...] Not being a doctor, please excuse the somewhat shortened nature of my formula ».

The dogma: test only the symptoms

This health protocol was “ strict "," with twice-daily monitoring, by SSA doctors (and temperature measurement), for 14 days ". “And at the end of these 14 days, none showed any symptoms”. " The dogma at that time was not to test everyone, but to test symptomatic patients “says General Maryline Gygax, Director General of the Armed Forces Health Service.

All precautions taken during repatriation

Incidentally, the Minister denies any failure towards the 18 Esterel staff, from the BA de Creil, who ensured the repatriation of French nationals on January 31, 2020 (read: Coronavirus: the repatriation of Europeans is organized). This assumption is " very unlikely for four reasons.

« (First) The personnel who left France did not get off the plane in Wuhan, and only stayed there long enough to board the nationals. (Second) they wore individual equipment (gloves, masks, overcoats). (Thirdly), they respected the safety distances with the passengers. No incident required direct contact or intervention with one of the passengers. »

Finally, " Before the flight, the presence of fever or symptoms was checked with the returnees. After the flight, the returnees were tested for SARS Cov-2, and all were negative. None showed symptoms.

No patient zero at the base of Creil

The minister also wanted to twist the blow to a " rumor » which runs in the Oise. Patient zero was not probably not » at the base of Creil (3). Simply " because cases occurred at the Crépy-en-Valois high school before occurring at the base ". For the Minister, who quotes the joint epidemiological report from Public Health France and the Armed Forces Health Service, the first case detected in France goes back much earlier: “ January 14, 2020, either well before the repatriation flight from Wuhan, or February 1, 2020, or the day after the flight”. A first case intervened in a person without contact with the air base. Which is not in favor of transmission by personnel who have returned from Wuhan”.

As for the sailors, who intervened at the Crépy-en-Valois high school over three days on February 3-4-5, “ none had any symptoms ". Minister's conclusion: No, definitely not, the Creil base is not at the origin of the triggering of a cluster in the Oise.

Comments: big inaccuracies and doubt remains

The frankness of Florence Parly is noteworthy. And that must be credited to him. Yet there are still too many imprecisions and uncertainties for his words to be entirely credible. The antecedents do not plead in favor of the minister whose communication throughout the coronavirus crisis has largely stammered, in particular on the aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle (4).

First, the acknowledgment of facts is not really spontaneous. It was the words of the former commander of the Oise base (see note 1) that revealed the information. And the excuses of the minister – “I am not a doctor” – for what is all the same a “false information given in public” are quite light. Everyone knows what the word 'test' means. And this from the start of the coronavirus crisis.

Then, we note a big contradiction: the famous "dogma" put forward by the director general of the health service of the armies, was already not respected at the time, since the civilians were tested (in the absence of symptoms) and not the military. So there was definitely some negligence somewhere.

Finally, we remain unsatisfied, by advancing certain elements aimed at completely clearing the Creil base of the departure of the infection, the minister remains very evasive on the various facts which seem contradictory with the public elements available (see note 2 ). In the end, this intervention does not make it possible to say with "certainty" that the hypothesis that the air base of Creil was at the origin of one of the first contaminations with the coronavirus in France can be definitively ruled out.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. On September 9, before the same commission of inquiry, the former commander of the BA110 of Creil, Colonel Bruno Cunat had admitted that the aircrew effectively, " have gone home. They have not been tested ". The soldiers on board the Esterel who are staying on the base “were put in a single room and if they had to take their meals, they took them (…) in a dedicated room but they did not take them at the mess. I can't guarantee it, but that was the instruction that was given," he acknowledged, according to Public Senate.
  2. According to public information and the testimony of his doctor (cf. LCI), the first French death affects a 60-year-old teacher from the Jean-de-la-Fontaine college in Crépy-en-Valois. On February 12, he consulted his doctor for flu-like illness and was put on sick leave. His condition then worsened. He consulted again on the 19th for an alteration, was urgently hospitalized on the 20th at the Laennec hospital in Creil and transferred on the 25th to the La Salpétrière hospital in Paris and died during the night. On February 27, the ARS Hauts-de-France fixed in a communicated, the contagious period on February 10 and 11.
  3. An evolution compared to the beginning of March. On France 2, the minister seemed more categorical, even using the word “absolutely not”.
  4. read: Return to port for the Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier, contaminated by the pandemic et The French carrier battle group hit to the heart. The situation minimized by the armies). On the Charles-de-Gaulle, the minister acknowledged that this type of vessel of " old conception [...] are not designed to easily contain the risk of epidemics, since there " up to 40 people in the same dormitory ».

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).