With thousands of dead and 29,155 confirmed COVID-19 cases in France, and thousands of health-care professionals infected, six doctors dead and other issues, anger against the government among the public, workers and medical staff is mounting. Like the UK Government, , the French government downplayed the disease and deliberately withheld critical information from the public In response, hundreds of health-care professionals are filing a suit charging top officials with criminal negligence – the only saving grace for the French Government is that they didn’t also bury a report as damning as the Cygnus Report. Could this spread to the UK, lawyers are still flipping through the precedents of ministerial responsibility and liability and the possibility of misfeasance in public office.
The French scandal erupted after ex-Health Minister Agnès Buzyn spoke to Le Monde, blaming Prime Minister Édouard Philippe for not calling off the March 15 first round of municipal elections, the second round of which has since been canceled, and for downplaying her warnings on the pandemic. It appears the interview was an attempt by Buzyn to shift criminal responsibility off her shoulders and onto those of Philippe and French President Emmanuel Macron. Minister Buzyn was apparently following events in China and an English-language blog reported on 20th December that a strange pneumonia was sweeping through China and claims to have alerted the French general health directorate. On January 11, Minister Buzyn claims to have sent a message to the president and on January 30, warned P.M. Édouard Philippe that elections could probably not be held.
Buzyn made clear that top French officials knew and hid the fact that by not calling for a lock-down to stop COVID’s spread, they were exposing themselves and others to mortal danger. Some claim that by early January, airports should have been closed or passengers subject to immediate quarantine.
When she left the health ministry to briefly run for Paris mayor, Buzyn admitted that she knew a tsunami was coming and was just thinking of the coronavirus. We should have stopped everything. Travel. Public Meetings.
This comes at a time when Ministers in the UK are accused of knowing since 2014 or 2016 that the biggest risk to the UK was Pandemic and that rather than planning for the inevitable Pandemic, the Government continued to maintain the NHS at minimal levels of staffing and equipment and entirely failed to adopt the warnings about PPE, ventilators etc in the Cygnus, Black Swan and other Pandemic Exercises and instead hid the report under a highly classified top secret marking.
The French public are angry about the coverups. They say quite understandably that when there was a nuclear threat in the 1970s, there were regular practices in schools and localities but no consideration given to Pandemic planning. Buzyn’s confession had terrified the Macron government and its allies.
Macron has complained “Why is she saying this now, when it is too late? Does she not realize that she is raising the criminal liability of both herself and the other people she is claiming she warned?” and Mélenchon proposed to drown the scandal in an “information session” of the National Assembly, yet again trying to bury the difficulties that will inevitably rain down on Governments in Europe after the Corona lockdown abates. This will be coupled with a concern about delays in closing borders due to the European open Borders and Schengen policies.
In fact, across Europe, the entire political ruling elite of all leanings has been repeatedly responsible for decades of austerity that devastated health systems, in favour of prestige projects, such as HS2 in the UK. Accusations are being made that Macron’s politically motivated inaction in the early weeks of the Pandemic was criminal just as aim is being taken at Downing street influencers such as Dominic Cummings as well as politicians for not taking the politically unpopular and politically risky steps of protecting the nation against the inevitable pandemic tsunami. As late as early March, government spokespeople were comparing COVID-19 to the flu and insisting that workers should not confine themselves at home and that herd immunity would appear and only the vulnerable and those living with the vulnerable should isolate, only to be bounced later into changing the policy when it was far too late. Prior to lockdown, wildcat strikes erupted across Italy and tens of thousands of industrial workers walked off the job in France and across Europe, forcing state officials to grudgingly approve confinement measures.
As the death toll has mounted among the population and health staff, growing anger and disillusionment with the Macron government has pushed health-care professionals to file suit against Philippe, Buzyn and other officials. Several hundred doctors and health staff represented by the lawyer Fabrice di Vizio have filed a suit to the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), which has jurisdiction to investigate high crimes by top officials.
Di Vizio said that his clients were suing based on Article 233, part 7 of the Criminal Code, which stipulates: “Anyone who voluntarily abstains from taking or launching measures that would allow, without risk for himself or third persons, for fighting a catastrophe that could threaten physical persons is punished with two years in jail and a 30,000 euro fine.”
Di Vizio pointed to the growing anger of health staff as they discovered that the government’s various assurances about protective equipment like face masks were lies. In echos of the UK, the complaint alleges that the government told them at the end of February that the masks would arrive, but delayed emergency measures such as using the army for distribution because it would focus attention on the running down of the health service.
Some of the anger is that French firms producing face masks had orders from the British government before the French Government placed orders resulting in lack of availability. Many pandemic specialist doctors say that they have for many years been telling the French authorities that there would be a problem with PPE, ventilators, intensive care beds. (Did someone mention Cygnus again?).
A fight to hold government ministers accountable for their actions in the COVID-19 pandemic has wide support in the working class and this is spreading to the middle classes with polls show that 70 percent of the population does not believe that their government has been telling the truth about the pandemic and prior planning for it; however the task of holding them to account cannot be left to the courts, but will also be the subject of a series of very public and wide reaching and very damaging public enquiries. In France, the General Inspectorate of the Health Administration concluded in its report that health protection was subordinated to economic considerations and political party dogma. Just as there will be a material backlash in China against the secretive PRC, so workers in Europe and internationally are faced with the challenge of struggling to ensure an effective fight against the disease, and as this panic and struggle turns to anger, they will take revenge on a political and financial aristocracy that was responsible.