Friday, 30 October, 2020
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Coronavirus: French police raid ministers' homes in pandemic inquiry



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Oct 15 (BBC): French police have raided the homes of senior government and health officials as part of an investigation into their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Health Minister Olivier Véran and the director of the national health agency, Jérôme Salomon, are among those whose properties were searched on Thursday.

The raids came after a court launched an inquiry earlier this year into the government's handling of the pandemic.

It has faced criticism over shortages of equipment and slow response times.

Prime Minister Jean Castex is also under investigation, French media report, as is his predecessor Edouard Philippe and Mr Véran's predecessor Agnès Buzyn.

The prime minister and Mr Véran have been at the forefront of France's new policy of imposing night-time curfews in nine cities, including Paris, from Saturday, which will be enforced by 12,000 police.

"This means at 21:00 everyone must be at home and, without exception, every place, business or public service open to the public will be shut," Mr Castex said on Thursday.

In July, the court launched the inquiry into the government's handling of the pandemic after members of the public, including doctors and relatives of victims, alleged that it had been criminally negligent in its response to Covid-19.

The special court hears cases of alleged wrongdoing by ministers and other government officials in the course of their duties.

But for the claims to be substantiated, there would have to be evidence that officials knowingly failed to take obvious steps that would have saved lives.

How bad is the situation in France?

A further 22,951 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on Wednesday. "We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus," Mr Macron said in a television address.

The president added that this wave of Covid-19 was different to the outbreak in the spring because the virus had spread to all parts of France.

France managed to control the first outbreak by introducing a national lockdown.

It then opened bars and restaurants in the summer, and allowed foreign tourists to visit as part of an effort to boost the ailing economy. Schools reopened and universities began teaching in person classes in early autumn.

But since August the number of reported cases has accelerated quickly.

Wednesday was the third time in six days that France reported more than 20,000 new infections. Mr Macron said the new measures aimed to reduce daily cases to around 3,000.

As with the first wave of Covid-19, there is concern that hospitals and intensive care units will become overwhelmed with patients.

What are the new measures there?

The curfew, from 21:00 to 06:00, will apply for at least four weeks to Paris and its suburbs as well as Marseille, Lyon, Lille, Saint-Etienne, Rouen, Toulouse, Grenoble and Montpellier.

Affecting around 22 million people, it will be applied for four weeks to begin with and Mr Macron's government will seek to extend it to six

The measures will stop people visiting restaurants and private homes during the evening and night-time. Private parties will be banned, even in areas not under curfew, from midnight on Friday.

Residents will need a valid reason to be outside their homes during the hours of curfew. President Macron said on Wednesday night he understood a curfew was a "hard" thing to ask people to do.

On Thursday, Mr Castex said travel during hours of curfew was permitted for trips to the hospital or pharmacy, or if work hours required. But a special certificate would need to be produced as proof. Pre-booked tickets for planes and trains that arrive after the curfew will be allowed.

Anyone found breaking the curfew will be fined €135 (£121).

Businesses that suffer financially due to the new measures will be eligible for state aid. Any company with up to 50 staff in the nine cities affected will be eligible for help if their turnover has fallen by over half in the past year.

All companies in curfew areas will be asked to move towards having employees work from home for at least part of the week, and to stagger working hours. President Macron has already suggested "tele-working" for two or three days a week.

 

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