A special French court has ordered an investigation of three current or former government ministers over their handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Covid-19 patients, doctors, prison personnel, police officers and others in France filed an unprecedented 90 complaints in the Court of Justice of the Republic over recent months, notably over shortages of masks and other equipment as as the virus sped across Europe.
The court usually only sees a few complaints a year.
The court, which deals with cases against top officials, said in a statement on Friday that it threw out 44 of the 90 complaints, and is still studying 37 of them.
The nine it deemed worth investigating target former prime minister Edouard Philippe, who resigned hours before the court’s announcement, Health Minister Olivier Veran or the former health minister, Agnes Buzyn.
They are accused of “failing to fight a disaster”, and could face up to two years in prison and fines, if tried and convicted.
That was the only charge the court retained among multiple accusations in the 90 complaints, which included allegations of manslaughter and endangering lives.
A conviction on those charges carries the potential for heavier prison terms.
Ten of the cases were closed because they did not provide enough justification for an investigation, according to a judicial official.
The court said another 34 cases, targeting different government ministers, were thrown out for technical problems.
President Emmanuel Macron and his government have acknowledged mask shortages and other missteps in the virus crisis. France was also short of testing capacity and criticised for not imposing confinement measures earlier.
Mr Macron himself cannot be targeted by lawsuits while in office because sitting presidents have immunity from prosecution.
The Court of Justice of the Republic is the only French court where government ministers can be tried for their actions while in office, and was created in the wake of a major health scandal in the 1990s.
The new investigation is separate from dozens of lawsuits filed in other French courts against nursing homes or others accused of mismanaging the virus crisis.
France has reported the fifth-highest number of virus deaths worldwide, for a total of 29,893, about half of them in nursing homes.