PARIS — French police searched the homes of the health minister, the former prime minister and other top officials Thursday in an investigation into the government’s response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
The dawn searches, confirmed by the Health Ministry, come as France is fighting against a resurgent epidemic that has now filled a third of the country’s intensive care units with covid-19 patients and is again putting Europe to the test.
President Emmanuel Macron announced curfews on around 20 million people in the Paris region and eight other French metropolitan areas starting tonight to try to slow the tide.
The investigation threatens to rekindle public frustration with a government that’s been accused of lying to the public about mask stocks, underestimating testing needs and overestimating France’s ability to vanquish the pandemic — not once, but now twice.
About 1,000 protesting nurses, doctors and other public hospital staff marched through Paris on Thursday to demand more investment, staff and higher salaries after years of cost cuts.
“We are tired!” read multiple banners.
The searches “will make the people’s mistrust grow,” said Dr. Ludovic Toro, who was among the doctors, covid-19 patients, prison personnel, police officers and others who filed more than 90 legal complaints in the spring over the government’s management of the pandemic.
A special French court for prosecuting government ministers ordered an investigation as a result of their complaints.
Toro still has no high-protection masks for his practice, nine months after the first virus case was confirmed in France. And he says he is seeing more patients with covid-19 symptoms now than he did in the spring.
He and other doctors accuse the government of lying to the public earlier in the year, when top officials told the public masks weren’t necessary even as they struggled to secure enough supplies for French hospitals amid surging global demand.
The government has said that its early guidance on not wearing masks was based on limited understanding of the new coronavirus at the time.