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Paris prosecutor advances criminal investigation into COVID-19 crisis handling

Medical staff move a patient suffering from COVID-19 to a plane during a transfer operation from Lille-Lesquin airport in France to Muenster airport in Germany, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

PARIS (Reuters) - A criminal investigation into whether the public officials who orchestrated France’s response to the COVID-19 crisis committed offences including manslaughter and endangering lives will be split into four inquiries, the public prosecutor said.

Remy Heitz said the investigation, still at a preliminary stage, would focus on the impact on the general public, healthcare workers, public servants and those who were sickened or died from COVID-19.

Two investigations are under way into France’s handling of the global pandemic, which has killed about 41,000 people in the country, roiled its economy and upended the social life of citizens.

One is the criminal investigation, opened in June and handled by the Paris public prosecutor. It is looking into whether France’s response to the crisis resulted in involuntary homicide and injury, endangering lives, and the wilful refusal to fight a disaster. No examples of the offences were given.

During the pandemic’s first wave last spring, there were many deaths in care homes where a lack of testing or protective gear meant the virus was brought in from the outside.

At this stage, no named individuals are targeted in the investigations.

The other is an inquiry led by an administrative tribunal, the Court of Justice, established in 1993 to handle cases of alleged ministerial misconduct.

In an unusual move, police last month raided the homes and offices of France’s health minister, its director of public health and the former prime minister as part of the Court of Justice’s investigation.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Writing by Matthieu Protard and Richard Lough; Editing by Mark Heinrich