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Covid-19 in France: Secret dinner parties for elite work

PARIS – Champagne, foie gras and a “potato soup glazed with truffles” were on the menu at one of many secret elite dinner parties held across Paris in violation of nationwide coronavirus restrictions, according to a French TV report.

The report, which is based on hidden camera footage and is broadcast over the weekend by the M6 ​​channel, showed mask-free eateries at venues such as a private mansion and a luxury restaurant. A dinner organizer initially said several French ministers had attended the illegal parties before returning to his statement.

The report sparked outrage in France, where thousands of people demanded explanations on social networks, and political leaders called for a strict application of lockdown rules. In response, Paris prosecutors said Monday it would investigate illegal dinner parties.

The news comes amid a deep sense of fatigue and frustration over a seemingly endless cycle of coronavirus restrictions in France that has just entered a third national lockdown aimed at fighting a third wave of infections.

The station’s report showed staff at an unidentified luxury restaurant offering evening menus priced from 160 to 490 euros or around $ 190- $ 580. Only customers recommended by an unnamed third party will be served, the eateries were advised.

“We are not wearing a mask here,” a white-gloved servant said at a dinner party, in fact an undercover journalist. “Once you pass the doors, Covid no longer exists.”

Elsewhere, elegant mask-free guests are seen at a dinner party held in a lavish private mansion. The owner of the mansion is heard saying, “This week I dined at two or three restaurants, so-called secret restaurants, with a certain number of ministers.”

The report did not identify the owner of the mansion. But Pierre-Jean Chalançon, a well-known businessman and collector, acknowledged in an interview Monday that a party had been arranged in his mansion even though only nine people had been invited.

The comments he had made about ministers attending the dinner, he said in a statement, were an attempt at humor.

No clear evidence has emerged that any minister has participated in an illegal gathering. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on Monday that to his knowledge no government officials had attended.

The report nonetheless offset rage online Monday. Hashtags like #OnVeutLesNoms, or #WeWantTheNames, reflected widespread anger over the notion that elites violated the rules that others had to follow. The issue became increasingly popular on Twitter on Tuesday with a new hashtag: #OnVeutLesDemissions or #WeWantResignations.

This is not the first time that some French restaurants have secretly reopened during the pandemic in violation of government rules. Cafes and restaurants were forced to close much of last year and have not reopened since the second national shutdown last fall, angering many restaurant owners – and eateries.

When France entered its third national shutdown on Saturday, with schools and non-essential businesses closed for a month, there is a mood of deep discontent in the country. A poll released Thursday showed a majority of French people were skeptical of the new lockdown effectiveness, with almost half saying they planned to reject the measures.

The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that more than 7,000 restaurants had been inspected by police since last October, resulting in fines for 300 owners and 1,000 customers.

But while the illegal reopening of small restaurants has often been seen as harmless resistance in the land of gastronomy, the illegal dinner parties struck another chord and opened a window on the entrenched and club-rich character of France’s elite.

Officials who reject restrictions they impose on others have been a problem for many governments. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom came under heavy pressure after a close adviser, Dominic Cummings, was found to have broken the rules on locking by traveling across the country.

Last month, French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot took part in a closed opera performance and posed for pictures with non-masked artists just before testing positive for coronavirus.

Several French government ministers have denied in TV and radio programs that they had been involved in the secret dinners. If anyone was, Mr Darmanin said on Sunday, they should be prosecuted.

“There are no two types of citizens with those who have the right to party and those who do not,” he said.

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