Luxury lockdown dinner parties provoke outrage in France

Investigation launched after secret footage reveals mask-less diners in high-end Paris restaurant

People wearing protective face masks, walk past a closed restaurant due to the restrictive measures taken to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, in a street of Paris, on November 23, 2020. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

A French TV report alleging “clandestine” luxury dinners in Paris despite the pandemic has sparked an investigation and a political furore over claims the elite brazenly ignored rules they themselves had set.

The M6 private channel on Friday broadcast footage recorded with a hidden camera, purportedly from a high-end Parisian restaurant where neither staff nor diners were wearing masks.

All restaurants and cafes remain closed in France with the country under a new limited nationwide lockdown to deal with surging Covid-19 infections.

The hashtag #OnVeutLesNoms (We Want the Names) went viral on Twitter, as speculation mounted over who might have attended such dinners.

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said that a criminal investigation had been launched, which would assess “if these evenings were organised in defiance of health rules and to determine who were the possible organisers and participants”.

An M6 source said the dinners had taken place and guests had even included government ministers.

The source was later identified as Pierre-Jean Chalencon, who runs the luxurious Palais Vivienne event venue in central Paris.

Mr Chalencon later released a statement through his lawyer that retracted the claim that ministers were present, saying he was only showing “humour” and the “sense of the absurd”.

His attempts at comedy will have been lost on French President Emmanuel Macron, who is facing a backlash for waiting "until the last moment" to impose the new lockdown.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said those involved in such dinners should be prosecuted if the allegations in the report were proven.

“There are not two types of citizens – those who have the right to party and those who do not,” he said.

His deputy, Marlene Schiappa, told French TV that if ministers or law makers were involved “they should be fined and penalised like any other citizen”.