Sixteen sailors are currently in solitary confinement in Le Havre after testing positive for Covid-19. Their oil tanker had been in India and French health authorities are carrying out tests to see if they are carriers of the Indian variant which has been identified in five cases in France so far.
16 of the 25 sailors aboard the Fairway, a Singaporean flagged tanker, were put into quarantine on 18 April while they were still at sea after they tested positive for Covid-19.
Too ill to pilot the vessel, it was dragged into the port of Le Havre by tug boats. The men continued their isolation in a dedicated hotel along with "strict controls" according to the Regional Health Agency (ARS) in Normandy.
The men's cases are being closely studied since they had all spent time in India where a variant of the virus has led to a spike in cases and deaths.
The sailors' test results are being analysed by the Institut Pasteur to "determine their precise nature and confirm whether or not the Indian variant is present".
The results will be known on Monday.
Several cases detected in France
At least five cases of the Indian variant have so far been detected in mainland France: three in Nouvelle-Aquitaine and two in Bouches-du-Rhone. The first two cases were registered in the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe on 27 April.
France is following the spread of the Indian variant very closely. The number of Covid infections, hospitalisations and deaths overall is very slowly but steadily going down and the country is to begin easing Covid health restrictions on Monday with an end to the 10km travel perimeter.
The gradual opening of bars, restaurants, shops and cultural venues begins on 19 May in areas where case numbers do not exceed 400 for 100,000 people.
The Indian variant, now circulating in at least 17 countries, is causing major concern because of the dramatic deterioration of the health situation in India where more than 400,000 cases are being registered each day. 211,000 people have died.
However, the variant is only partly responsible for the severity of India's epidemic which is also being fuelled by large gatherings of people with little regard for physical distancing, according to the UN's World Health Organization.
The capital Delhi is extending its lockdown for another week but prime minister Narendra Modi has resisted calls for a nationwide lockdown to preserve the economy.