100 Test Positive Aboard the Fully Double Vaccinated British Carrier
Coronavirus has hit the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier and an escorting group of warships on their first global tour, with more than 100 crew members infected.
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, said the outbreak had not yet prompted a rethink of the carrier strike group’s voyage to 40 countries, which includes transiting through the South China Sea – a long-awaited manoeuvre that is set to raise tensions with Beijing.
But he said he would support the captain of HMS Queen Elizabeth “whatever decision he makes”.
As well as around 100 personnel on the carrier, a number of crew members on four accompanying British ships also caught COVID-19.
There are some 3,700 personnel across the entire carrier strike group.
The first cases were identified on around 4 July.
The Sun, which broke the story, said the sailors became infected when they went ashore during a stopover at Limassol in Cyprus.
Mr Wallace, speaking during a press briefing on Tuesday while on a visit to the UK, said: “Our crew are double vaccinated so you’ll be glad to know there is no serious effects on any of the crew and we will manage it.
“I will offer support to the captain to make the decision – what is right for his ship. I will fully support whatever decision he makes but this is not like the early days of the problems with COVID. It is understood, we know how to deal with it.”
The defence secretary played down, when asked, the prospect of the emergence of COVID impacting the schedule of the carrier group, which is due to visit a number of Asian countries, including Japan, as part of its high-profile tour to showcase “Global Britain”.
“She [the carrier] has just entered the Indian Ocean. She has got a long transit ahead, double figures in days. The first outbreak was about 4 July or something so we are quite a way through it,” he said.
Mr Wallace continued: “We are not going to get in a situation where we put anyone at risk. First and foremost, my duty is to protect the crew and I will stand by the captain if he has to make a different decision. We are not planning any major changes. We don’t think there is any need at the moment.”
In more bad news for the Royal Navy, a Type 45 destroyer, HMS Diamond, which is part of the carrier strike group, has had to come alongside after suffering problems with its propulsion – an issue that has impacted all ships of the same class.
“HMS Diamond didn’t sort of break down, she sailed alongside and is going to be fixed where she is,” Mr Wallace said.
“I won’t say where she is going to be fixed. It is not a crippling thing. It will delay her a bit, but I think she will be back on track in a few weeks to carry on supporting the task group.”
A Royal Navy spokesperson said: “HMS Diamond has experienced some technical issues and has detached from the Task Group for maintenance, inspection and any necessary repairs. She is expected to re-join the Task Group.”
Other British warships that deployed with HMS Queen Elizabeth on her maiden voyage include destroyer HMS Defender, frigates HMS Richmond and Kent, an Astute-class submarine and Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Tidespring.
Vessels from allied nations are also part of the group, comprising Dutch frigate HNLMS Evertsen and American Arleigh Burke destroyer USS The Sullivans.
On the covid outbreak, a Royal Navy spokesperson said: “As part of routine testing, a small number of crew from the Carrier Strike Group have tested positive for COVID-19. The Carrier Strike Group will continue to deliver their operational tasks and there are no effects on the deployment.”
Source: Sky News