French authorities search homes of health minister, ex-PM in inquiry into handling of Covid-19

French police searched the homes of Health Minister Olivier Véran, former prime minister Edouard Philippe and other officials on Thursday as part of an inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, the ministry said.

Véran is one of several current or former ministers under investigation over their response to the coronavirus pandemic following complaints by victims of Covid-19 that they were too slow to act.

Véran’s office was also searched as part of the probe, as was the home of the director of the national health agency, Jérôme Salomon.

Critics accuse the government of being too slow to roll out large-scale Covid-19 testing and playing down the importance of wearing masks at the start of the pandemic, when face coverings were in short supply and being reserved for health workers.

A special French court has ordered an investigation into the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Prime Minister Jean Castex is also a subject of the investigation, as are his predecessor, Edouard Philippe, and Véran’s predecessor at the health ministry, Agnès Buzyn. The home of Sibeth Ndiaye, a former government spokeswoman, was also searched on Thursday.

In July, a judicial investigation was launched into the official handling of the pandemic after Covid-19 patients, doctors, prison personnel, police officers and others in France filed an unprecedented 90 complaints, notably over shortages of masks and other equipment.

‘Do our citizens seriously believe that the shortages were voluntary?’

Salomon abruptly canceled an early-morning live interview on the national BFM-TV due to “personal reasons,” according to the network.

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Jean-Luc Reitzer, an opposition member of the French parliament who was hospitalised with a severe case of coronavirus, said he was shocked by the searches. “Do our citizens seriously believe that the shortages, which were real, were voluntary?” he told BFM.

The raids come a day after French President Emmanuel Macron announced curfews in Paris and eight other French cities to deal with the rising toll of new infections.

Daily new infections are increasing at a record rate, putting a renewed strain on the hospital system. The virus has killed more than 33,000 people to date in France, the ninth-highest tally in the world.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & REUTERS)

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