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France uncovers ‘massive fraud’ of coronavirus wage payouts

The Paris prosecutor's office said Friday that it was investigating "massive fraud" across France by people falsely claiming temporary wage assistance for employees laid off during the coronavirus lockdown.

France uncovers 'massive fraud' of coronavirus wage payouts
Restaurants had to close down all services except for deliveries and takeout during the lockdown. Photo: AFP

As the crisis hit, the government quickly introduced a system to pay around 84 percent of net salary for people no longer able to work.

Thousands of firms applied for the payments, allowing millions of people to avoid a sudden drop in revenue – in the first month alone the programme paid out some €24 billion.

But officials soon began noticing suspicious similarities in some applications, in many cases by people who surreptitiously used the tax registration numbers of firms that had not applied for the funds.

“More than 1,740 fraudulent operations were discovered across the country on behalf of 1,069 different businesses asking for wire transfers to over 170 different bank accounts,” Paris Prosecutor Remy Heitz said in a statement.

EXPLAINED: This is France's new plan to help workers and self-employed

In the southern Occitanie region alone, investigators tracked 18 fraudulent transfers totalling €868,000 euros to French bank accounts, of which €421,000 have been recovered.It said €1.7 million was illicitly paid out, but officials managed to suspend other payments totalling more than €6 million

“Several other investigations, aimed at uncovering international financial movements linked to these frauds, still need to be carried out,” Heitz said.

“They will be extremely complex and require significant international cooperation,” he said.

Despite the relief programme, the government has warned that up to 800,000 jobs could be lost in coming months because of the two months of business closures during the COVID-19 lockdown, which began to be lifted in May.
 

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COVID-19

New Covid wave in autumn ‘virtually certain’ say French experts

The head of the government's new health advisory body says that a surge of Covid cases when the French head back to work after the summer break is virtually certain.

New Covid wave in autumn 'virtually certain' say French experts

Immunologist Brigitte Autran, president of new government health advisory body the Comité de veille et d’anticipation des risques sanitaires (Committee to monitor and anticipate health risks) which has replaced the Conseil scientifique, told Le Parisien that “the Covid epidemic is not behind us” and said that the French would have to get used to “living with” the virus.

The Covidtracker website currently shows that the virus is in decline across France, with the R-rate currently at 0.7 – any figure lower than one indicates that the number of infections is falling.

Autran, whose appointment as head of the new body was confirmed on Wednesday, said that the most likely scenario was for a “new epidemic peak in the autumn”, when people return to work after the summer holidays.

“Will it be due to a new variant or the return of cold weather?” she said. “We are not soothsayers, but it is almost certain that there will be a wave.”

“Today, we must go towards living with it,” she added, reintroducing the French to an expression previously used by President Emmanuel Macron and several ministers.

“This does not mean accepting the deaths or the severity of the disease,” she went on, pointing to the fact that health authorities in France still have “levers to activate” to fight the virus. 

Despite the fact that nearly 80 percent (79.6 percent) of people over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated against the virus, she said that, “unfortunately there are still too many people who have not been vaccinated or revaccinated.”

And she said the new body would work with the government to improve the public’s access to drugs, such as Paxlovid, and vaccines.

Vaccination is still open to anyone who has not yet had their shots, while a second booster shot is on offer to certain groups including over 60s, pregnant women, those with health conditions or people who are in close contact with vulnerable people.

EXPLAINED Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster shot in France?

The French government in August voted to end to State of Emergency that allowed it to impose measures like travel bans and lockdowns, although further restrictions could be put in place if cases rise again and parliament agrees. 

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