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Warship carrying RAF Marham jets sets sail despite positive tests for COVID-19

PUBLISHED: 16:36 30 April 2020 | UPDATED: 16:36 30 April 2020

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth harbour after being delayed due to the crew being tested for coronavirus. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth harbour after being delayed due to the crew being tested for coronavirus. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

A Royal Navy ship which carries jets from RAF Marham has set sail despite two crew members testing positive for coronavirus.

F-35 Lightning jets from Norfolk's RAF Marham will again be flying from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth following coronavirus testing of the ship's crew. Picture: MOD/LPhot Belinda AlkerF-35 Lightning jets from Norfolk's RAF Marham will again be flying from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth following coronavirus testing of the ship's crew. Picture: MOD/LPhot Belinda Alker

Aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth left Portsmouth Naval Base after the pair were removed from the vessel, having already been in contact with colleagues.

The 65,000-tonne warship’s scheduled departure on Wednesday had been delayed to allow the 700-strong crew to be tested.

It will now enter a period of quarantine at sea prior to commencing training exercises, which F-35 Lightning jets from Norfolk’s RAF Marham air base are due to join in the coming weeks.

People take a selfie as the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth harbour after being delayed due to the crew being tested for coronavirus. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA WirePeople take a selfie as the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth harbour after being delayed due to the crew being tested for coronavirus. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

All personnel joining the ship after the quarantine period will be required to complete a 14-day period of self-isolation, it is understood.

The Royal Navy has refused to comment on what precautions have been taken to protect the crew if sailors begin showing COVID-19 symptoms onboard, although sources told the PA news agency the navy was happy the ship was “clean” and procedures were in place.

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An F-35 Lightning jet takes off from RAF Marham, Norfolk. Picture: MOD/SAC Kitty BarrattAn F-35 Lightning jet takes off from RAF Marham, Norfolk. Picture: MOD/SAC Kitty Barratt

A spokesman for the Royal Navy said: “All personnel sailing with the ship have undergone testing for coronavirus.

“As a further precaution, HMS Queen Elizabeth will conduct a period of isolation at sea before she continues her training.”

Concerns over the £3bn warship setting sail were initially raised after 600 crew members aboard a French aircraft carrier and accompanying vessels tested positive for the virus.

Crew members wave from Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as it leaves Portsmouth harbour after being delayed due to the crew being tested for coronavirus. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA WireCrew members wave from Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as it leaves Portsmouth harbour after being delayed due to the crew being tested for coronavirus. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Meanwhile an American sailor died after becoming infected with COVID-19 on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey subsequently called for the military to be tested and for large-scale training exercises to be postponed to protect personnel.

But now HMS QE has departed for a period of eight weeks, which will see F-35 jets carrying out manoeuvres on the ship’s flight decks.

F-35 Lightning jets from Norfolk's RAF Marham will again be flying from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth following coronavirus testing of the ship's crew. Picture: MOD/LPhot Belinda AlkerF-35 Lightning jets from Norfolk's RAF Marham will again be flying from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth following coronavirus testing of the ship's crew. Picture: MOD/LPhot Belinda Alker

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In a statement, the navy added: “HMS Queen Elizabeth has sailed from Portsmouth to ensure she is ready to conduct her first operational deployment in 2021.

“She will be operating in waters close to the UK coast and the commanding officer has the discretion to cease the training, if deemed necessary.

The Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth harbour after being delayed due to the crew being tested for coronavirus. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA WireThe Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves Portsmouth harbour after being delayed due to the crew being tested for coronavirus. Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

“She will undergo several weeks of training to ensure the UK can deliver on its commitment to have a carrier strike group ready to deploy from the end of this year.”

• For the latest COVID-19 news, visit the Norfolk Coronavirus Updates Facebook page.

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