PARIS (AP) – French police searched the homes of the health minister, former prime minister and other senior officials on Thursday as part of an investigation into the government’s response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The search at dawn, confirmed by the health ministry, comes as France fights a resurgent epidemic that has now filled a third of the country’s intensive care units with COVID-19 patients and is putting Europe to the test again.. President Emmanuel Macron has announced an evening for about 20 million people in the Paris region and eight other French urban areas, starting Friday night, to try to slow the tide.
The investigation threatens to rekindle public frustration with the government, which has been accused of lying to the public about mask stockpiles, underestimating testing needs and overestimating France̵
About 1,000 protesting nurses, doctors and other public hospital staff passed through Paris on Thursday to demand more investment, staff and higher salaries after years of spending cuts.
“We’re tired!” read many banners.
The search “will increase people’s distrust,” said Dr. Ludovic Toro, who was among doctors, COVID-19 patients, prison officials, police and others who filed more than 90 legal complaints about the pandemic in the spring. .
A special French court to prosecute government ministers has ordered an investigation into their appeals.
Among those whose homes were searched Thursday were Health Minister Olivier Veran, his predecessor, Agnes Buzin, former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, current head of the country’s national health service, Jerome Salomon, and Sibet Ndiaye, a former government spokesman. Veran’s office was also searched.
Dr. Thoreau still does not have highly protective masks for his practice, nine months after the confirmation of the first case of the virus in France. And he says he now sees more patients with COVID-19 symptoms than in the spring.
He and other doctors accuse the government of lying to the public earlier in the year when senior officials said public masks were not needed, even as they struggled to provide enough supplies to French hospitals amid growing global demand..
“They had to say there were no masks. That was the real problem, “he said. “They refused to tell the truth.”
The government said its early guidelines for wearing masks were based on a limited understanding of the new coronavirus at the time.
Asked about the searches on Thursday, incumbent Prime Minister Jean Castex would not comment on the investigation, but said he had “full” confidence in the health minister to do his job.
The government continues to send mixed messages about the virus. In addition to the curfew in several cities, the prime minister announced a national ban on public weddings on Thursday, even as the president encouraged the French to travel as usual for the upcoming autumn school holidays.
The government has said it will deploy 12,000 police officers to impose the new curfew and will spend another 1 billion euros to help businesses be hit hardest by recent virus restrictions.
“Our compatriots thought that this health crisis was behind us,” Castex said. “But we can’t live normally again while the virus is here.”
France registered nearly 180 cases of viruses per 100,000 people each week, with 22,591 new cases on Wednesday. He is reported to be one of the world’s tallest virus victims, with more than 33,000 lives lost.
Michelle Euler and Catherine Gashka contributed to this report.