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Let them eat cake: Are there secret lockdown restaurants for the Paris elite?

Empty cafe tables in Lille, France
Empty tables at a cafe terrace in Lille, in northern France.
(Michel Spingler / Associated Press)

Champagne, lobster and no masks: That’s what a French TV documentary says is on the menu at one of multiple high-end “clandestine restaurants” catering to the Paris elite, in violation of nationwide coronavirus restrictions.

Even more shocking to the newly confined French public — and exhausted medical staff — is that one organizer claims that government ministers are among those who attend.

French authorities are investigating the allegations, and government officials scrambled to insist that they’re behaving properly.

Anti-capitalist activists and critics of President Emmanuel Macron, who suffered a bout of COVID-19, aren’t convinced, and planned a protest Tuesday — advertised on social networks under the banner “Let’s Eat the Rich” — at one of the alleged secret venues.

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The Paris prosecutor’s office said Monday that an investigation was opened Sunday into possible charges of endangerment and undeclared labor, and to identify the organizers of and participants in the alleged gatherings.

A documentary that aired on French network M6 over the weekend included a man saying that he had eaten in two or three clandestine restaurants “with a certain number of ministers.”

The French are among the most reluctant people in the world to get a COVID-19 shot because of distrust of the government and past health scandals.

The prosecutor’s office said Monday that the investigation is continuing despite reports that the man featured in the documentary had retracted his claim.

Government members denied knowledge of any wrongdoing by their colleagues. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin asked police to look into the claims.

M6 aired hidden camera footage that it said came from two different private venues in recent weeks, as a new COVID-19 surge swept France and restrictions tightened.

At one venue, white-gloved waiters presented fixed-price menus running from around $190 to $575 per person whose offerings included Champagne, truffles with foie gras and lobster in ginger sauce. One host said guests didn’t wear masks, despite France’s indoor mask requirements, because “it’s a private club. We want people to feel at home.”

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At another venue, reportedly offering a $260 meal, visitors in elegant attire shared cheek kisses and strolled a red carpet.

French restaurants have been closed since October to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and the country just entered a new partial lockdown in response to intensive care units again filling with COVID-19 patients.

“I’m getting sick of this. There’s no point in going to work,” said Michele Feret, a nurse providing home care to COVID-19 patients in the town of Creil, north of Paris. She noted that a clandestine restaurant in a working-class district of Creil was also recently shut down.

“Let them go to restaurants,” she told the Associated Press, with the added warning that no one, including top officials, “has special protection” from the coronavirus.

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Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said that ministers “have a duty to be totally irreproachable and exemplary.” Speaking on LCI television Sunday night, Attal said authorities have been investigating reports of underground parties and restaurants for months, and 200 suspects have been identified and face “heavy punishment.”

When asked by the AP last month how many government officials had been fined for violating coronavirus restrictions, Prime Minister Jean Castex refused to give a breakdown, instead listing the number of fines issued to the overall French public.

For those who are caught, the endangerment charge carries a potential prison term and fines of $17,600, while participants face fines of $160 for violating curfew and another $160 for not wearing masks.

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The restaurant revelations came as France’s health minister warned Monday that the number of COVID-19 patients in the country’s intensive care units could reach the level of the first wave a year ago.

France has reported more coronavirus infections than any European country and one of the world’s highest death tolls, at 96,650.


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