Inquiry launched in France over ‘clandestine’ Covid-defying dinners for the elite

A report by a French television channel alleging "clandestine" luxury dinners in Paris despite the pandemic has sparked an investigation and a political furore over the claims the elite were brazenly ignoring rules they themselves had set.

Inquiry launched in France over 'clandestine' Covid-defying dinners for the elite
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said those involved in such dinners should be prosecuted if the allegations in the report were true. Photo: Christophe Petit-Tesson / POOL / AFP

The M6 private channel on Friday broadcast a reportage based on footage recorded with a hidden camera purportedly from a clandestine restaurant in a high-end area of Paris where neither the staff nor the diners were wearing masks.

All restaurants and cafes remain closed in France for eating in and the country this week began a new limited nationwide lockdown to deal with surging Covid-19 infections.

The hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms (We Want the Names) went viral on Twitter, as speculation swirled over who may have attended such dinners.

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said Sunday that a criminal probe had been opened after the reportage into putting the lives of others at risk.

The investigation would assess “if these evenings were organised in defiance of health rules and to determine who were the possible organisers and participants.”

One source interviewed by M6, whose identity was not revealed and whose voice was distorted, told the channel that such evenings had taken place and guests present had even included ministers.

READ ALSO: France to ban outdoor drinking under new virus restrictions

The source was later identified by media and bloggers as Pierre-Jean Chalençon, who runs the luxury Palais Vivienne event venue in the centre of Paris.

In statement sent to AFP through his lawyer late Sunday, Chalençon implicitly acknowledged he was the source but also appeared to retract the claim ministers were involved, saying he was only showing “humour” and the “sense of the absurd”.

But the report was no laughing matter for members of the government, days after President Emmanuel Macron ordered new restrictions including a brief closure of schools to keep cases down before the effects of the vaccine drive kick in.

READ ALSO: France closes schools for 3 weeks and extends partial lockdown across whole country

Chalençon had been recorded saying in February that government spokesman Gabriel Attal, a rising cabinet star, would be attending such a dinner. Attal vehemently denied the claim.

But deputy interior minister Marlene Schiappa told French TV that if ministers or lawmakers were involved “they should be fined and penalised like any other citizen”.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire insisted: “All the ministers, without exception, respect the rules.”

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said those involved in such dinners should be prosecuted if the allegations in the report were true.

“There are not two types of citizens — those who have the right to party and those who do not,” he said.

Member comments

  1. Ahhhhh….. now I know I have been wrong all that time thinking masks are useless! Macron wears one all the time…….. how did he get covid I wonder…….?

  2. With all that is happening in France and the world, is this all these people have to worry about, bloody dinner parties. What about the proposal to legalise assisted dying for people with incurable diseases which has been blocked in the French parliament, largely by five opposition party MPs? I would have thought that this is more relevant to peoples lives then a few dinner parties.

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

The head of the government's new health advisory 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.