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Covid: Paris police probe 'secret luxury dinner parties'

 French restaurant table, file pic

French police have launched an investigation into alleged clandestine fine dining and parties in Paris, revealed in an undercover TV report.

French Interior Minister GĂ©rald Darmanin ordered the probe, saying such gatherings, breaching Covid lockdown rules, would be "totally unacceptable".

A private TV channel, M6, tweeted the undercover film, with the description "caviar, champagne, top chefs' menus and no masks allowed".

France is now in its third lockdown.

The new restrictions took effect nationally on Saturday and will continue for four weeks, with the aim of curbing a surge in Covid-19 cases. On Sunday the number of Covid patients in intensive care rose to 5,341, putting French hospitals under huge strain.

All schools and non-essential shops are shut and a night curfew is in place from 19:00 to 06:00.

The M6 film showed an unnamed private dining club in a "smart district" of Paris, where guests were told they could remove their masks. The secret venue, with window blinds down, was accessed via an apartment block.

A waiter is heard telling the reporter - who is posing as a guest - that "the people who come here don't wear masks; once you enter here there's no more Covid".

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According to the report, the haute cuisine on the menu starts at €160 (£136; $188) and can cost as much as €490 per person.

The video also shows separate undercover footage of what is apparently a secret dinner party in a luxurious venue. The voice-over says the guests paid €220 per head, and some kissed each other cheek-to-cheek, ignoring all Covid distancing rules.

A woman is heard claiming that "this week I dined at two or three restaurants - so-called clandestine restaurants - with some ministers".

The video has gone viral, and triggered the Twitter hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms, meaning "we want the names".

The video points out the penalties for lockdown offences in France - a year in jail and €15,000 fine for putting someone's life at risk and, for each guest, potentially a €135 fine for violating the curfew and another €135 for not wearing a mask.

When asked about the report, Mr Darmanin said that in the current crisis there was not one rule for the rich and privileged and another for everyone else.

If the video is proven to be accurate, he said, "these people must be prosecuted and, I imagine, sentenced for having organised such parties".

He said police were intervening daily to break up "big barbecues" in working-class districts, "because people don't respect the lockdown".

"Clearly, in the capital's smartest districts, the rules are the same for everyone. We don't have two types of citizen: those with a right to party and those who don't."

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire also voiced concern about the video, and insisted that "all ministers, without exception, are respecting the rules and no-one among them thinks they have some sort of special pass".

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