French Ex-PM Fillon Given Five Year Sentence In Fraud Trial

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 27, 2020, former French Prime minister Francois Fillon returns to the courtroom at the Paris’ courthouse, for the hearing of the trial over claims they embezzled over one million euros in an alleged fake-jobs fraud. – A French court is scheduled to give its verdict on June 29, 2020, in the trial of former premier Francois Fillon on charges of setting up a fake job for his wife, although the ruling could be delayed by a controversy over alleged pressure on prosecutors. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP.

 

A Paris court on Monday sentenced former French prime minister Francois Fillon to five years in prison, with three suspended, after finding him guilty of orchestrating a fake job for his wife, a scandal that cost him his shot at the presidency in 2017.

Fillon’s wife Penelope was handed a suspended three-year sentence for participating in a scheme that saw her paid over a million euros in public funds over a 15-year period.

Both were ordered to pay fines of 375,000 euros ($423,000) and also reimburse one million euros to the National Assembly, where Penelope supposedly worked as Fillon’s parliamentary assistant from 1998 to 2013.

With three years of the five years suspended, Fillon faces two years behind bars in jail. But the couple immediately appealed the ruling, meaning neither will be detained for now pending the appeal.

The couple made no statements as they left the courthouse.

The case was widely seen as a test of whether French politicians would be held to account after decades of getting off lightly on charges of nepotism or financial misconduct.

– Test for French elite –

The allegations that Fillon had pilfered the public coffers for years pummelled his image as an upright fiscal hawk promising to right the country’s finances — and loomed large in the “yellow vest” anti-government protests that rocked the country in 2018-2019.

A newspaper report on the fake job surfaced early in January 2017, just after Fillon clinched the nomination from his rightwing Republicans party as candidate for a presidential race he was widely tipped to win.

It later emerged that Fillon had also used public money to pay two of his children a combined 117,000 euros for alleged sham work while he was a senator, before becoming premier in the government of then-president Nicolas Sarkozy.

He was also accused of getting the millionaire owner of a literary magazine to pay his wife 135,000 euros for “consulting work” that was largely fake.

A third defendant, Marc Joulaud — who stood in for Fillon in parliament when he was a cabinet minister, and who also hired Penelope Fillon as an assistant — was also found guilty.

He was also handed a three year suspended sentence.

– ‘Penelopegate’ –

Fillon’s lawyers had attempted to have the case reopened after the former head of the Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF), Eliane Houlette, told lawmakers this month that she had met with “pressure” to bring charges quickly against Fillon.

But the court rejected the request Monday, even though President Emmanuel Macron — whose path to the presidency was cleared by Fillon’s downfall — requested an investigation over the prosecutor’s claims.

“Penelopegate”, as the scandal became known, torpedoed the career of one of France’s right-wing stars, who was the youngest member of parliament when first elected at just 27 years old.

Fillon met his Welsh-born wife while she was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and the couple soon married and moved to an imposing country estate near Le Mans where they raised their five children.

Penelope Fillon told the court she spent a lot of time sorting her husband’s mail, attending public events near their rural manor and gathering information for his speeches.

But investigators seized on a 2016 newspaper interview in which she said: “Until now, I have never got involved in my husband’s political life.”

Fillon insists he was set up for “political assassination” by his rivals and was also the victim of a biased judiciary.

AFP

Low Turnout Expected As France Votes In Local Polls

Voters wearing face masks wait prior to casting their ballot during the second round of the mayoral elections on June 28, 2020, at a polling station in Le Havre, northern France, amid the crisis linked with the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP.

 

French people went to the polls wearing face masks Sunday in the final round of municipal elections expected to yield a rebuke for President Emmanuel Macron’s party.

Amid persistent fears of coronavirus contagion, just over 15 percent of voters had turned out by midday — fewer even than four hours into the first election round on March 15 marked by a record 55-percent abstention rate.

Polls opened for 12 hours for some 16.5 million eligible voters at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) in nearly 5,000 cities and towns, about 15 percent of the country’s municipal councils, where the first election round did not yield a decisive outcome.

Power remains up for grabs in the key cities of Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, and Strasbourg.

The opening round was held just as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining deadly momentum, but the second phase, scheduled for March 22, was put off after France went into lockdown.

A new date was set after the government’s scientific council said it was possible to hold another round safely, but voters are required to wear face masks and were urged to bring their own pens.

READ ALSO: Civilians Among Over 100 Victims Of Libya Mines – UN

Many voters and election officials sported germ-blocking plastic visors, and plexiglass screens were erected between them at several polling stations, which also provided sanitising hand gel.

“If one can go shopping, why not go vote?” said an undeterred Martine Legros, 67, who cast her ballot in Dijon in eastern France.

– High toll –

Analysts expect the election to confirm that Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party — founded by the president ahead of his 2017 election win — has failed to gain a strong foothold at local level.

The party made lacklustre showings in March — notably in Paris where Macron’s candidate, former health minister Agnes Buzyn, came third.

Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo is forecast to hold on to the capital.

“The problem is that the LREM is a new party that has no local roots and is struggling to impose itself as a (political) force,” analyst Jean Garrigues of the University of Orleans told AFP.

He predicted that disillusionment with the party may put people off going out to vote in already complicated circumstances.

With a death toll approaching 30,000, France has been badly hit by the pandemic.

The country went into lockdown on March 17, just two days after the first election round that critics say should not have been held. Voting started just hours after the government ordered all restaurants and bars closed.

Most restrictions have now been eased.

– Cabinet reshuffle? –

During the outbreak, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe — an unshowy technocratic — saw his popularity rise to a level higher than that of Macron, whose policies have been the target of months of protests and strikes.

Macron’s critics say he is a president of the rich and out of touch with ordinary people.

Paris is buzzing with speculation that a poor showing by the LREM Sunday could see Macron announce a cabinet reshuffle, possibly axing Philippe, who campaigned to be mayor of the Normandy port city of Le Havre.

Holding two executive posts is allowed under French law.

Firing Philippe would allow Macron “to claim he is delivering on his promise to ensure the ‘second act’ of his presidency takes note of failings revealed by his handling of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Mujtaba Rahman of the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

With just 22 months to the next presidential election, Macron’s main challenger is far-right leader Marine Le Pen of the National Rally.

Despite an abysmal performance in the last presidential elections, France’s Socialists are expected Sunday to keep key regional centres, including Paris, where three women are vying for the top job.

There will also be close attention on the Europe Ecology – The Greens party, which has its eye on the Alpine hub of Grenoble as well as Strasbourg and Lyon.

In Marseille, leftist Michele Rubirola hopes to take France’s second city from the right after a quarter of a century of control.

For Le Pen’s National Rally, the big prize would be Perpignan in the south, which could become the stage for the first far-right takeover of a French city of more than 100,000 inhabitants since 1995.

The only region of France not voting Sunday is the overseas territory of Guiana in South America, where the pandemic is deemed too active to open polling stations.

AFP

France Closes Two Paris Schools As Precaution After COVID-19 Cases

Middle school pupils arrive at their school, on June 22, 2020 in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside Paris, as primary and middle schools reopen in France. – After six weeks of unsteady school sessions and more than three months of class at home to fight against the spread of the new coronavirus Covid-19, French pupils and middle school students return to class on June 22, thanks to a lighter health protocol. Thomas SAMSON / AFP.

 

French authorities have closed two schools in Paris as a precautionary measure after the discovery of coronavirus cases but they have not been classed as potentially dangerous clusters, authorities said Wednesday.

France, unlike some other European countries which have taken a much more cautious approach, on Monday resumed obligatory schooling for all pupils after the coronavirus shutdown.

Some schools had already been open at least partially for several weeks after the initial easing of the lockdown.

But a school in the 12th district of Paris with 180 pupils has been closed until the end of the week after three cases were discovered, the local health authority told AFP.

However the timescale of the infections — spread over the start of June to Monday — indicates that this is not a cluster, it added.

Another Paris school, in the 4th district and with 200 pupils, has been closed until July 7 after one case was discovered.

READ ALSO: COVID-19 Crisis Sinks Global Economy In 2020, Collapsing GDP 4.9% – IMF

However, the local authority said there were no other schools closed in Paris due to COVID-19 cases.

Life across France has now returned to a semblance of normality after the lockdown, albeit with many people still working from home and wearing masks on the street.

Officials are wary of a second wave but say there has been no evidence of this yet despite the relaxation measures.

According to the latest figures published late Tuesday, 29,720 people in France have died from the virus with 161,267 positive cases registered.

AFP

Macron Marks De Gaulle’s Wartime Appeal With Britain Visit

Macron Signs Controversial French 'Anti-Rioters' Bill Into Law
France’s President Emmanuel Macron talks to journalists after a European Council meeting on Brexit at The Europa Building at The European Parliament in Brussels on April 11, 2019. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP.

 

French President Emmanuel Macron travels to Britain on Thursday to commemorate Charles de Gaulle’s call for resistance in World War II, against the very modern backdrop of grappling with Brexit and the coronavirus crisis.

Macron will hold talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a hugely symbolic visit that is his first foreign trip since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The visit marks 80 years since de Gaulle, the exiled wartime resistance leader, made his famous call on June 18, 1940, from BBC studios to a defeated France from London not to give into the Nazis.

Johnson has announced honorary British MBE awards to four surviving French resistance fighters — one aged 100 and three in their late 90s.

READ ALSO: EU Hopes US Pullout Of Digital Tax Talks Not ‘Definitive’

“The struggles we face today are different to those we confronted together 80 years ago,” Johnson said.

“But I have no doubt that -– working side by side -– the UK and France will continue to rise to every new challenge and seize every opportunity that lies ahead.”

– ‘Need to be careful’ –

But beyond the historic symbolism, Macron’s meeting with Johnson at 10 Downing Street will also focus on the grinding search for an agreement on Britain’s exit from the EU.

Britain, which left the EU in January, is negotiating a trade deal to govern relations after December 31, when it stops abiding by EU rules. Macron has on occasion expressed impatience with the drawn-out Brexit process.

Macron’s status as a visiting foreign dignitary will spare him the controversial two-week virus quarantine now demanded by the British authorities of all visitors from abroad.

France, where unlike in Britain cafes and restaurants are now fully open after the virus lockdown, had expected French travellers to be exempt from the rule.

“We just want to be very careful — yes, to open up, but to do so when it’s safe and responsible. So we’ll work through all of that with our French friends,” foreign minister Dominic Raab told BBC TV.

– ‘Proud of your courage’ –

Before heading to Britain, Macron met in Paris with Hubert Germain, 99, one of the four surviving Resistance heroes.

“Our country is proud of your courage and it still inspires us. We will make sure every young person knows what they owe you,” he told the veteran.

After arriving in Britain by air with a scaled-down delegation, Macron will meet heir to the throne Prince Charles in London, with both set to pay their respects to de Gaulle and make speeches.

A statue of Churchill that was controversially boxed up after anti-racism protests will be uncovered for Macron’s visit, the London mayor’s office said.

Macron will award the Legion of Honour to London, making it the seventh city to be decorated with France’s highest order of merit.

He will then head to Downing Street for the talks with Johnson, himself an avowed fan of Britain’s wartime leader Winston Churchill, who allowed de Gaulle to broadcast from the BBC.

The day will be given added poignancy by news of the death of British singer Vera Lynn, who famously who helped keep up morale during World War II. She was 103.

– ‘Nothing lost’ –

Macron, who displays de Gaulle’s war memoirs on his desk in his official photograph, is making much of 2020 as an anniversary year for the French resistance leader who would later become president of post-occupation France.

The general’s iconic stature and his defiant wartime spirit are being tapped into even more during the unprecedented challenges posed by the epidemic.

In a telling reflection of his status, the vandalisation of a de Gaulle bust in northern France this week was met with a torrent of outrage.

In his radio broadcast from London, de Gaulle urged all those who could to carry on fighting for France, words that laid the foundation of the resistance movement and helped keep alive hope that France would be liberated, as it finally was in 1944.

“Has the last word been said? Should hope disappear? Is the defeat final? No! Believe me, I… tell you that nothing is lost for France,” he said.

AFP

London Churchill Statue To Be Uncovered Before Macron Visit

The statue of former British prime minister Winston Churchill is cleaned in Parliament Square, central London on June 8, 2020, after being defaced, with the words (Churchill) “was a racist” written on it’s base by protesters at a demonstration on June 7, 2020, organised to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. – Most marches at the weekend were peaceful but there were flashes of violence, including in London, where the statue of World War II leader Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was defaced. JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP.

 

The London statue of British wartime leader Winston Churchill that was controversially boxed up after anti-racism protests will be uncovered for a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, the mayor’s office said Wednesday.

“The covering around the Winston Churchill statue will be removed for the visit of President Macron to London,” said a spokesman for mayor Sadiq Khan.

Other monuments to Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, and the Cenotaph war memorial were covered up in the wake of protests at the death of George Floyd during a police arrest in the United States.

The protection was put in place before a counter-demonstration last weekend, which saw far-right protesters fight running battles with the police.

Churchill’s statue became a target when it was daubed with graffiti branding him a racist because of his policies at the time of a 1943 famine in the Indian state of Bengal that left millions dead.

The Cenotaph was also targeted.

The boards around the Cenotaph were taken down on Monday but the coverings around the statues of Mandela and Gandhi will stay in place “under review”, said Khan’s office.

Macron’s visit coincides with the 80th anniversary of General Charles de Gaulle’s appeal to the French people, calling on them to resist the German World War II occupation of France.

A statue of the wartime French resistance leader was also recently targeted in the northern French town of Hautmont.

The defacing of Churchill’s statue and subsequent covering up sparked outrage in Britain, particularly from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has written a biography of his predecessor.

Johnson has said he “will resist with every breath in my body any attempt to remove that statue from Parliament Square, and the sooner his protective shielding comes off the better.”

He told parliament on Wednesday that “we are looking at new ways in which we may legislate against vandalism of war memorials”.

Reports have suggested long prison terms for the worst offenders.

AFP

Macron To Mark De Gaulle Wartime Speech With UK Trip

France To Extend Lockdown As Virus Deaths Soar In Europe, US
French president Emmanuel Macron takes part in a video conference with World Health Organization (WHO) general director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at the Elysee Palace on april 8, 2020 in Paris. Ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Britain on Thursday to mark 80 years since exiled wartime resistance leader Charles de Gaulle called on France not to give in to the Nazis.

Macron will look to underline the enduring importance of Anglo-French relations even after Brexit by looking back to de Gaulle’s dramatic appeal on June 18, 1940, made from BBC studios in London shortly after his evacuation from a defeated France.

But Macron, who is due to hold talks with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as meeting Prince Charles, will be unable to escape the shadow of Brexit as talks on the terms of Britain’s exit enter a tricky phase.

The trip will be Macron’s first outside France since the coronavirus crisis erupted in earnest. The French leader has been criticised in some quarters for his bellicose rhetoric on the virus, declaring that France was “at war” with COVID-19.

The situation has improved sufficiently for Macron to say that France could claim its “first victory”.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

But the challenges remain unparalleled since World War II, with Macron along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel spearheading a 500 billion euro ($566 billion) rescue plan for Europe.

– Spared quarantine –

Macron, who displays de Gaulle’s war memoirs on his desk in his official photograph, is making much of 2020 as an anniversary year for the French resistance leader who would later become president of post-occupation France.

In May, he paid tribute to de Gaulle at the site of the 1940 Battle of Montcornet, one of few effective counter-attacks by French soldiers against the Nazis and where de Gaulle made his name as a military commander.

On November 9, Macron is to mark the 50th anniversary of the general’s death by visiting his final resting place in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises in eastern France.

Before heading to Britain, Macron will take part in the traditional annual ceremony at Mont Valerien outside Paris, a memorial for the French who fought against the Nazis and those who were killed by the occupying forces.

He will then travel to London, where his status as a visiting foreign dignitary will spare him the controversial two-week virus quarantine now demanded by the British authorities of all visitors from abroad, a move that has irritated Paris.

He will award the Legion of Honour to London, making it the seventh city to be decorated with France’s highest order of merit, after Algiers, Belgrade, Brazzaville, Liege, Luxembourg and Volgograd.

Britain, which left the EU in January, is negotiating a trade deal to govern relations after December 31, when it stops abiding by EU rules. Macron has on occasion expressed impatience with the drawn-out Brexit process.

– ‘Legendary hero’ –

In his radio broadcast from London, de Gaulle urged all those who could to carry on fighting for France, words that laid the foundation of the resistance movement and helped keep alive hope that France would be liberated, as it finally was in 1944.

“Has the last word been said? Should hope disappear? Is the defeat final? No! Believe me, I… tell you that nothing is lost for France,” he said.

De Gaulle’s iconic stature and his defiant wartime spirit are being tapped into even more during the unprecedented challenges posed by the epidemic.

In a telling reflection of his status, the vandalisation of a bust of the general in northern France this week was met with a torrent of outrage. The statue in Hautmont was daubed in orange paint and with the slogan “slaver”.

“De Gaulle was neither on the left nor on the right… He was above the parties,” said French historian Michel Winock, author of a book on de Gaulle.

But he was also simply “a legendary hero, the man of June 18, the defiant fighter who embodies an epic, glorious France, an incorruptible man who never mixed up public money and his own account”, Winock said.

AFP

French Economy To Shrink 11% This Year – Minister

French Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire (C) gives a press conference following his meeting with employers and professionals organisations at the Economy Ministry in Paris on December 3, 2018. ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

 

The French economy is expected to shrink 11 percent this year because of the coronavirus crisis, a “brutal” shock and worse than the government’s previous forecast of an eight percent contraction, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday.

“The shock is very brutal,” Le Maire told RTL radio, though he said that “I am absolutely certain that we are going to bounce back in 2021.”

The business closures and confinement orders to halt the COVID-19 pandemic had left the economy gasping for air, he said, warning that “the hardest part is still ahead of us.”

The government has progressively revised upwards the damage caused by the pandemic and the latest estimate will be included in a recovery budget which will be submitted to ministers on June 10.

Last week, the official statistics agency INSEE warned that the economic contraction would be much larger than the government’s previous estimate of eight per cent, because the pickup as the virus lockdown was eased would only be gradual across the second half of the year.

READ ALSO: WHO Warns Of Pressure On Latin American Health Systems

The government has launched a series of massive aid packages, complete with billions of euros for key sectors such as tourism, the auto industry and aviation, to keep the economy afloat and plans a major programme by September to speed up the recovery.

Officials are progressively easing the restrictions imposed to curb the coronavirus outbreak, and Le Maire also announced that traditional mid-year sales by retailers would be pushed back to July 15 instead of June 24.

He said the delay had been requested by small-business owners who needed more time to prepare after being closed for more than two months.

AFP

French Churches Reopen After Easing Of COVID-19 Restrictions

French bishop Emmanuel Gobilliard leaves after leading the first mass since the beginning of the lockdown due to Covid 19 pandemic, on May 23, 2020 in Saint-Jean cathedral in Lyon, as France eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus.  JEFF PACHOUD / AFP.

 

French churches were preparing to hold their first Sunday masses in more than two months after the government bowed to a ruling that they should be reopened — provided proper precautions were taken.

Nearly two weeks into the relaxation of its shutdown, the government finally allowed churches, mosques and synagogues to reopen.

Last Monday, the France’s Council of State, which instructs the government on legal issues, ordered it to lift its sweeping ban on all religious services, in place since the lockdown.

The ruling said that such a ban on freedom of worship caused “damage that is serious and manifestly illegal”, ordering the government to lift the ban within eight days.

But priests, pastors, rabbis and imams will still have to ensure that the correct safety measures are in force.

Worshippers will have to wear masks, there will have to be disinfectant gel on hand and the seating will need to be organised to ensure people keep a safe distance from each other.

READ ALSO: Pandemic Gives Dubai Chance To Put Tech To Test

“My cell phone is crackling with messages!” Father Pierre Amar, a priest in Versailles, told AFP.

At one church in Neuilly-sur-Seine, just outside Paris, some worshippers turned up at short notice Saturday morning, having heard that mass would be celebrated.

“We knew 30 minutes in advance, we ran to come,” said Eliane Nsom, who went with her three daughters. Around 40 people attended the service.

– Government caution –

France’s mosques nevertheless called on Muslims to stay at home to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. They said they would gradually resume services from June 3.

France’s Jewish community took a similarly cautious line. Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia stressed that believers should not “rush towards the reopening of the synagogues”.

The latest figures for those seriously ill from the virus fell Saturday, with 1,665 patients still in intensive care for the coronavirus: 36 fewer than 24 hours ago.

The death toll from the virus stands at 28,289.

But the government has had to fight a series of legal and battles to control the pace of the gradual loosening of France’s two-month lockdown.

It has refused Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo’s call to reopen the capital’s parks and gardens, over fears this could accelerate infections in the city, already hard-hit by the virus.

Heavily criticised for what critics say was their inadequate preparation in the run-up to the coronavirus crisis, the authorities have taken a caution line in handling the exit from the lockdown.

Many of its experts judge that it is too soon to say that the virus has been brought under control in France.

But some specialists, such as epidemiologist Laurent Toubiana believe that the coronavirus has already done its worst.

“A significant portion of the population may not be susceptible to coronavirus, because non-specific antibodies to the virus can stop it,” Toubiana told AFP.

The controversial microbiologist Didier Raoult has also said the dangers of a second wave of the virus have been exaggerated.

But a series of medical papers have called into question his insistence that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment against the coronavirus, a cure most notably promoted by US President Donald Trump.

The latest study of nearly 100,000 coronavirus patients, published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet, showed no benefit in treating them with anti-viral drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine.

Such a treatment even increased the likelihood of them dying in hospital, it said.

AFP

France In Recession As Virus-hit Economy Shrinks 5.8 Percent

Volunteers distribute face masks and leaflets to commuters outside a metro station in Vincennes on the outskirts of the French capital Paris, on April 30, 2020, on the 45th day of a lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 disease, caused by the novel coronavirus. Philippe LOPEZ / AFP.

 

The French economy officially fell into recession after contracting 5.8 percent in the first quarter, the national statistics office said Thursday, underscoring the massive toll of the country’s nationwide shutdown to curb the coronavirus outbreak.

Even though the business closures and stay-at-home orders were imposed only the final two weeks of the quarter, the drop-off in activity was a hammer blow that has put more than half of France’s private-sector employees out of work.

It was the worst quarterly performance since the Insee statistics agency began charting French gross domestic product in 1949, and follows a 0.1-percent decline in the last quarter of 2019 — meeting the definition of a recession as two consecutive quarters of contraction.

Insee said the drop was due mainly to the halt of non-essential activities since mid-March, underscoring a 7.3-percent collapse in household spending on goods — a drop that reached 17.9 percent in March alone.

The government has already said it expects an eight-percent contraction for the French economy this year as it prepares to start lifting the lockdown on May 11.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Cases In Russia Surge Past 100,000

It has announced 110 billion euros ($120 billion) in financial aid and other relief for businesses, and President Emmanuel Macron has vowed that “no company would be abandoned to the risk of bankruptcy.”

But Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told lawmakers Wednesday that “we must be realistic about the fact that once the shock has been absorbed,” there is a risk of a “cascade of failures” and a “severe” impact on unemployment.

In addition to the aid package, the government is guaranteeing up to 300 billion euros in loans for affected businesses.

– Health vs growth –

Entire sectors of the French economy have effectively been shut down, the Labour Ministry says, with nine out of ten workers in hotels and restaurants, as well as in construction now unemployed.

Business groups have warned that even with the loans and financial relief such as delayed payment of payroll taxes and other charges, thousands of small and midsize companies could be facing bankruptcy this year.

The government announced this week that if encouraging declines in COVID-19 cases continue, many businesses will be allowed to open on May 11, and some children will progressively start returning to class.

But bars, restaurants and cinemas will remain closed until June at the earliest, and companies are being urged to keep their employees working from home, to avoid a second wave of coronavirus deaths.

“We must protect the French without immobilising France to the point that it collapses,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in announcing the measures this week.

The toll has also been heavy on France’s blue-chip companies, with top bank Societe General reporting Thursday a first-quarter loss of 326 million euros, its first quarterly loss since 2012.

The bank said it would cut costs by an additional 600 to 700 million euros this year to weather the crisis.

Tyre giant Michelin said late Wednesday that its sales slid 8.3 percent in the quarter to 5.3 billion euros, reflecting the worldwide slump in vehicle sales and construction activity.

AFP

Virus Syndrome Also Found In French Children, Minister Says

File photo/ AFP

 

France has more than a dozen cases of children with inflammation around the heart, the health minister said Wednesday, after Britain sounded an alarm about a new disease with possible links to novel coronavirus.

Olivier Veran said there was not enough evidence to confirm a link with the coronavirus sweeping the globe but France was taking the cases “very seriously”.

Britain’s state-run National Health Service issued the alert at the weekend about a small number of children presenting an unusual set of symptoms, including abdominal pain and inflammation that required admission to intensive care.

In London, health minister Matt Hancock on Tuesday spoke of “early signs that in rare cases, there is an impact of an auto-immune response in children that causes a significant disease.

“It’s a new disease that we think may be caused by coronavirus and the COVID-19 virus.”

But he said that while some of the children who have it tested positive for the virus, others did not.

Cases have also been reported in Italy, Spain and Switzerland, Veran told Franceinfo news radio, adding he had received an alert from Paris concerning “about 15 children of all ages”.

The French minister listed the symptoms as fever, digestive problems and vascular inflammation which can lead to cardiac deficiency.

“To my knowledge, fortunately no child has died from these complications which are fairly rare illnesses that can come with inflammation of the heart,” Veran said.

Some of the cases “in France as in England, but not all, have turned out to carry the coronavirus”, causing “some concern and watchfulness”.

“I am taking this very seriously. We have absolutely no medical explanation at this stage.

“Is it an inflammatory reaction which sets off a pre-existing condition in children who have this virus or is it another infectious disease? There are a lot of questions.

The minister urged international and French experts to gather as much data as possible to establish if a link can be made between the coronavirus and the new symptoms, “which until now had not been seen anywhere”.

France intends to re-open primary schools from May 11 and the minister noted that children had largely escaped COVID-19 infection and that serious cases involved those with underlying conditions.

AFP

First French Doctor Dies As Coronavirus Death Toll Rockets

(FILES) This file handout illustration image obtained February 3, 2020, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
Lizabeth MENZIES / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention / AFP.

 

 

The first French doctor battling the coronavirus has died as the death toll in the country spiralled to 674 Sunday.

With the outbreak spreading to eight regions — and 112 more dying in a single day — authorities admitted their count does not include those who died at home and in old people’s homes.

“We are looking at an epidemic that is widening and escalating,” the head of the health service Jerome Salomon said.

With hospital flooded with 7,240 victims, the military are having to transfer some from the worst-hit areas.

“The virus kills and it is continuing to kill,” Salomon added.

The 67-year-old emergency room medic who died worked at Compiegne hospital, north of Paris, the town’s mayor told AFP.

He was hailed as a hero by his family for coming back from holiday to treat the first major outbreak in the country.

Mayor Philippe Marini said that Madagascar-born Jean-Jacques Razafindranazy “came back to work voluntarily to treat people and knew he was taking a risk”.

– Calls for curfew –

His wife, a family doctor, is now also sick with the virus and has been quarantined at home.

Dr Razafindranazy’s death came as controversy raged over a shortage of protective gear for medical staff in some parts of France.

Despite Health Minister Olivier Veran saying more than 250 million masks had been ordered, some doctors and nurses have complained that they have had to do without.

READ ALSO: China’s COVID-19 Strategy: A Model For The World?

The French government is also under pressure from doctors’ unions to impose a total nationwide curfew, with some cities, including Nice and Perpignan, already banning people from going out.

With authorities expected to extend the lockdown beyond the end of March, doctors want it tightened to “at a minimum” stopping people going out to jog or exercise.

Parliament toughened fines for people who break the current confinement measures late Saturday. Repeat offenders now face six months in prison and a fine of 3,700 euros ($3,950).

– Shortage of masks –

Dr Razafindranazy died on Saturday in a hospital in the northern city of Lille, with his son paying an emotional tribute to him on Facebook.

“He was passionate about his work and chose not to retire. He has left a family behind him who will never forget him,” he added.

The family also warned that “this illness is extremely serious and must not be taken lightly”.

Marini said Dr Razafindranazy “would soon have been 68” and had treated some of the first cases in the Oise department, the first area in France to be badly hit by COVID-19.

He was infected in early March, the mayor added.

A quarter of the more than 7,200 people now in hospital with the virus are in intensive care.

Veran said many medical staff who contract the virus could in fact be getting infected outside of their work, while adding that protection for frontline staff was “absolutely indispensable”.

But doctors and nurses were losing patience, with the Frederic Adnet, the head of an emergency department at Seine-Saint-Denis in the northern suburbs of Paris, saying supplies of protective clothing were clearly under strain.

“We know we are exposed,” he told French television. “We know a number of us are going to contract it and there will be a price to pay… with protective gear cruelly lacking.”

AFP

French Basketballer Fined $1,400 For ‘Disrespecting’ Chinese Flag

Guerschon Yabusele #30 of the Boston Celtics grabs the rebound against the Philadelphia 76ers during Day 2 of the 2019 Las Vegas Summer League on July 6, 2019 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

A French former NBA player has been reprimanded and fined $1,400 by sports officials in China for not looking at the Chinese flag during the national anthem before a game.

Players with the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) are supposed to stare at the national symbol during the “March of the Volunteers”, but television images showed Guerschon Yabusele, who plays for Nanjing Tongxi Monkey King, had his head down before Friday’s game.

Yabusele was given a “serious warning” and a 10,000-yuan fine for not looking at the flag as required, the CBA said in a statement on Saturday.

Yabusele, who played forward for the Boston Celtics for two seasons before joining the CBA team this year, has not commented on the incident.

China’s government has stepped up the promotion of patriotism under President Xi Jinping, with legislation approved in 2017 to punish anyone who disrespects the national anthem with up to three years in prison.

Opinions on Yabusele’s punishment were divided on Chinese social media.

“He’s happy to take money from China, but he doesn’t respect it,” one person wrote on the popular Weibo social media platform.

“This player must be expelled immediately and his club must be disqualified from the championship,” another said.

But many found the sanction to be harsh.

“It’s nonsense. First, he’s not Chinese. Moreover, he stood up and didn’t make any insulting gesture,” one person wrote.

“He has his head down. So what? In what era does the CBA live? It’s 50 years behind.”

Yabusele is not the first foreign athlete to break patriotic rules in China.

Last year, Shandong Luneng’s Brazilian midfielder Diego Tardelli was handed a one-game ban for rubbing his face during the anthem before a game.

AFP