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French prime minister targeted by lawsuit

A man wearing protective a face mask as precaution against the conoravirus walk at Trocadero plaza near Eiffel Tower in Paris, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. France sees a substantial increase of Covid-19 cases. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS (AP) — A group of COVID-19 survivors and patients’ families is suing French Prime Minister Jean Castex, accusing him of potentially dangerous and contradictory management of the virus crisis even as infections have multiplied in recent weeks.

Castex and the government have pushed to reopen the economy and “learn to live with the virus,” refusing to impose new nationwide lockdowns as hospitals in some French regions start to fill up with virus patients again.

Lawyer Fabrice Di Vizio said he filed the lawsuit Thursday on behalf of the France Coronavirus Victims group in the Court of Justice of the Republic, a special court for prosecuting government ministers. The prime minister is accused of failing to “fight a disaster likely to create a danger for public safety.”

Dozens of other lawsuits have been filed in other French courts against nursing homes or others accused of mismanaging the virus crisis. President Emmanuel Macron cannot be targeted by lawsuits now because sitting presidents have immunity from prosecution.

The victims group questions why France hasn’t yet authorized quick saliva tests for the virus, instead of insisting on nasal tests that can take days to produce results because of backlogs in saturated French labs. The government argues that the saliva tests are not reliable enough, though they are available in some other countries, and says a quicker nasal test will be available in coming days.

The patients’ group also asks why the government pushed for mask requirements outdoors over the summer but didn’t require them inside offices until Sep. 1. Scientists say the risk of virus spread is higher indoors.

If the court decides to prosecute the case, Castex could face up to two years in prison and a 30,000-euro ($35,000) fine if convicted.

Also Thursday, Health Minister Olivier Veran announced 20 more testing centers nationwide as he told a press conference that the virus is “very active again” in France.

More than 30,600 people with the virus have died in France, including more than 10,000 in nursing homes. The country is now reporting more than 70 positive cases per 100,000 people, among the highest rates in the world, in part thanks to ramped-up testing.

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