PARIS – Champagne, foie gras and a “truffle-glazed potato soup” were on the menu at one of many elite secret dinners being held across Paris in violation of national coronavirus restrictions, according to a television report French.
The reportBased on hidden camera footage broadcast over the weekend on channel M6, it showed unmasked diners in places like a private mansion and a fancy restaurant. A dinner organizer initially said that several French ministers had attended the illegal parties, before backing down on his statement.
The report sparked outrage in France, with thousands of people demanding explanations on social media and political leaders calling for strict enforcement of the blocking rules. In response, the Paris prosecutor’s office said Monday it would investigate the illegal dinners.
The news comes amid a deep sense of fatigue and frustration over a seemingly endless cycle of coronavirus restrictions in France, which has just entered a third national lockdown aimed at fighting a third wave of infections.
The station report showed the staff of an unidentified upscale restaurant offering evening menus priced from 160 to 490 euros, or around $ 190- $ 580. Only customers recommended by an unidentified third party would be served diners were informed.
“We don’t wear a mask here,” a white-gloved waiter told a diner, actually an undercover journalist. “Once you walk through the doors, Covid is no more.”
Elsewhere, graceful maskless guests are seen at a dinner held in a luxurious private mansion. The owner of the mansion is heard saying: “This week I dined in two or three restaurants, the so-called clandestine restaurants, with a number of ministers.
The report did not identify the owner of the mansion. But Pierre-Jean Chalançon, a well-known businessman and collector, He acknowledged in an interview Monday that a party had been organized at his mansion, although only nine people had been invited.
The comments he had made about the ministers attending the dinners, he said in a statement, were an attempt at humor.
No clear evidence has emerged that any minister attended an illegal meeting. Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, said Monday that, to his knowledge, no government official had participated.
Nonetheless, the report sparked a furor online on Monday. Hashtags like #OnVeutLesNoms, or #WeWantTheNames, reflected widespread anger at the idea that elites were breaking the rules that others had to follow. The issue was still trending on Twitter on Tuesday, with a new hashtag: #OnVeutLesDemissions, or #WeWantResignations.
It is not the first time that some French restaurants have secretly reopened during the pandemic in defiance of government rules. Cafes and restaurants were forced to close for much of last year and have not reopened since the second national closure last fall, infuriating many restaurant owners and diners.
As France entered its third national shutdown on Saturday, with schools and non-essential businesses closed for a month, there is an atmosphere of deep discontent in the country. A poll released Thursday showed most French people were skeptical about the effectiveness of the new blockade, with nearly half saying they planned to circumvent the measures.
The Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that police had searched more than 7,000 restaurants 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 dinners struck a different chord, opening a window on the entrenched and clubby nature of the French elites.
Officials who disobey the restrictions they impose on others have been a problem for many governments. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under intense pressure after a close adviser, Dominic Cummings, was found to have violated blackout rules by traveling across the country.
Last month, French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot attended a closed opera performance and posed for photos with unmasked artists just before testing positive for the coronavirus.
Several French government ministers have denied on radio and television programs that they were involved in the secret dinners. If any were, Darmanin said Sunday, they should be prosecuted.
“There are not two types of citizens, with those who have the right to party and those who do not,” he said.