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France's ex-health minister Agnes Buzyn indicted in COVID-19 handling probe

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By Euronews  with AFP
Agnes Buzyn delivers a speech at her Paris mayoral campaign headquarters in Paris, March 15 2020.
Agnes Buzyn delivers a speech at her Paris mayoral campaign headquarters in Paris, March 15 2020.   -   Copyright  Julien de Rosa via AP

Agnes Buzyn, France's health minister when the global COVID-19 pandemic erupted, was on Friday indicted for "endangering the lives of others".

The indictment was handed out by prosecutors of the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), as part of their investigations into the handling of the health crisis by the French government.

It came hours after she was interviewed by prosecutors. Prior to her interview, she had told reporters that it was "an excellent opportunity for me to explain myself and to set the record straight."

"I will not allow the government's action, my action as minister, to be sullied when we have done so much to prepare our country for a global health crisis which, I would remind you, is still going on," she added.

Buzyn, 58, quit her role as minister in February 2020 to run in the mayoral election for Paris for French President Emmanuel Macron's centrist La Republique en March (LREM).

In late January, after three cases of the virulent disease had been reported in the country Buzyn, a hematologist, had estimated that the risk of the coronavirus spreading in France was "very low", due to the strict lockdown in Wuhan, the Chinese city in which the disease is thought to have originated. She tempered that, however, by saying the situation could "evolve".

She was also harshly criticised when it emerged that there was a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), especially face masks, for health workers, having stressed in January that the country had "tens of millions of masks in stock in case of an epidemic".

After her third place in the Paris mayoral election, she however argued that she alerted Macron and the government before mid-January of the risks of the disease.

"I think I was the first to see what was going on in China," she told Le Monde newspaper.

"When I left the ministry, I was crying because I knew that the tsunami wave was ahead of us. From the beginning, I was only thinking about one thing: the coronavirus. We should have stopped everything, it was a farce," she added.

France is the second-wost impacted country in the European Union after Italy with more than 115,000 lives lost to the pandemic.

Authorities have received thousands of complaints about the handling of the pandemic, with about a dozen deemed admissible by the commission of requests of the CJR, which launched its probe in July 2020.

Since then, searches have been carried out at the homes and offices of former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Buzyn and her successor at the health ministry, Olivier Véran.

Following her defeat in the Paris election, Buzyn briefly returned to practicing medicine before being appointed the World Health Organisation's Director General's Envoy for Multilateral Affairs in January.