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image source, Reutersimage captionAgnès Buzyn served as France's health minister from May 2017 until February 2020, when she stepped down to run as a mayoral candidate in Paris

France's former health minister is being formally investigated for how she handled the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prosecutors said Agnès Buzyn is under investigation for "endangering the lives of others", after leaving her role in February 2020 to launch a failed bid to become the Paris mayor.

A special government misconduct court will decide whether to prosecute her.

It is one of the world's first cases of a minister held legally accountable for their pandemic response.

Ms Buzyn could also face a count of "failing to fight a disaster", according to Le Monde newspaper.

At a court hearing on Friday, the 58-year-old said she welcomed the chance to explain herself and "to establish the truth", AFP news agency reported.

She added that she would not let the government's actions or her own be discredited "when we did so much to prepare our country for a global health crisis".

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Ms Buzyn took up the role as France's health minister in May 2017 and resigned just a few weeks after the first Covid-19 cases were confirmed in France.

She lost the mayoral election to Anne Hidalgo last year. The former doctor then joined the cabinet of World Health Organization (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in January 2021.

The Court of Justice of the Republic is a controversial institution, which gives the judges and parliamentarians who sit on it the right to investigate, try and convict ministers for crimes arising from their government work.

For several months it's had a file open on alleged oversights and failings committed by the Macron government, especially in the early stages of the epidemic. Agnès Buzyn is in its sights because before she left the job as health minister she made statements appearing to suggest the situation was under control, but then later she said that, on the contrary, when she left office she'd known that the disaster was about to strike.

The court is also looking into accusations of negligence in the provision of protective clothing to health staff, and confusion in the issuing of advice over masks.

But there are many in French political circles – including the opposition – who find the court's action to be troubling. An over-assertive judicial branch, they fear, is in danger of paralysing the executive – and deterring ministers, fearful of prosecution, from anything but the most cautious response to crises that occur.

France set up the Court of Justice of the Republic, or Cour de Justice de La Republique, in 1993 to investigate government ministers accused of misconduct.

The announcement comes as part of a wider investigation into the government's pandemic response – including its preparedness, policy changes, and its reception of scientific research into the virus.

France's current health minister Olivier Véran reportedly could also be summoned before the same judges in the coming weeks.

On Friday, France reported 9,966 more infections over the past 24 hours, compared with 13,466 the previous Friday.

In total the country has reported some 6.7 million cases and more than 113,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

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