Virus spreads aboard US aircraft carrier

There are concerns about an outbreak of coronavirus aboard aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.
There are concerns about an outbreak of coronavirus aboard aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

The captain of a US Navy aircraft carrier facing a growing outbreak of the coronavirus is asking for permission to isolate the bulk of his roughly 5,000 crew members on shore, which would take the warship out of duty in an effort to save lives.

In a memo to Navy leaders, the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt said that the spread of the disease is ongoing and accelerating and that removing all but 10 per cent of the crew is a "necessary risk" in order to stop the spread of the virus. The ship is docked in Guam.

Navy leaders are scrambling to determine how to best respond to the extraordinary request as dozens of crew members tested positive.

"We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset our sailors," said Navy Captain Brett Crozier in a memo obtained by The Associated Press.

A Navy official said Crozier alerted commanders on Sunday evening of the continuing challenges in isolating the virus. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said that Crozier wants more isolated housing for the crew and that Navy leadership is reviewing options to ensure the health and safety of the crew.

US Pacific Fleet commander Admiral John Aquilino told reporters on Tuesday that the Navy is working to get as many sailors as possible on shore, while still maintaining a core crew to monitor the nuclear reactors and keep the ship running. He said the pace may not be as fast as the commander would like, but it will be done on a rotation, with sailors staying on shore in isolation for 14 days, then returning to the ship virus-free so that others can go ashore.

Asked about efforts to isolate sailors on shore, he said the Navy is doing what it can with facilities that are available. Officials are working with the government of Guam to try to get hotel rooms that will allow for greater isolation, Aquilino said.

Aquilino would not discuss exact numbers or timelines, but agreed with Navy Secretary Thomas Modly's assertion that about 1,000 sailors have been taken off the ship so far. He added that no sailors are currently hospitalised.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Australian Associated Press