The COVID-19 pandemic is now “under control” in France, the head of the government’s scientific council said on Friday as the country cautiously emerged from a blockade imposed in March.
“We can reasonably say that the virus is currently under control,” Jean-François Delfraissy told France Inter radio.
“The virus is still circulating, in certain regions in particular … but it is circulating slowly,” he added.
Delfraissy, immunologist, and his colleagues were appointed to the advisory committee on coronaviruses when the authorities sought to contain an epidemic that killed more than 29,000 people in France.
The number of daily deaths has dropped with just 44 reported by the health ministry on Thursday and 1,163 intensive care patients – well below the peak of more than 7,000 critical cases in early April.
Delfraissy said that around 1,000 new cases are currently being reported in France per day, up from around 80,000 in early March, before national residence orders and business closings are issued.
In its latest summary of the results published Thursday, the health agency Sante Publique France estimated that the country had 151,325 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of June 2, the date on which restaurants across France were authorized to reopen and more students were able to return to class.
But he warned that at the height of the epidemic, patients suspected of having coronavirus infections had not been systematically tested, which means that the actual number of cases exceeds the official estimate.
– Cautious optimism –
The advisory group this week urged authorities to prepare for four potential scenarios of how the epidemic might unfold in the coming weeks, ranging from new limited but continuing cases to a “critical deterioration” of the situation.
“We think the first scenario, a controlled epidemic, is the most likely,” said Delfraissy, citing the success of the containment measures and the possibility that contagions of coronaviruses may stop during the summer months.
He called for increased efforts to “test, trace and isolate” in order to limit the spread of a virus, as only a small fraction of the French population has been exposed to it, which means that a second outbreak of cases remains a risk.
Currently, about 75% of intensive care patients are grouped in four regions – the Paris region, two regions covering the northeast of the hard-hit country and the southeast near the city of Lyon.
However, only the Paris region, such as the overseas territories of Guyana and Mayotte, remain in the high-risk “orange” category on the government map of the threat of coronaviruses, the rest of the country being labeled “green”.
This led authorities to reopen restaurants, bars and cafes on Tuesday and lift the travel restriction within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of a person’s home – except for “orange” regions like Paris, where only outdoor seating in cafes and restaurants is permitted.
But rallies of more than 10 people remain banned, and while more students have started going back to school, high schools in the “orange” areas remain closed and universities are not expected to reopen until September.
France also canceled its annual July 14 military parade in Paris on July 14, replacing it with a much more restricted tribute to health workers.
The government hopes to ease restrictions further from June 22, including the reopening of cinemas, and the country’s second municipal ballot, originally scheduled for March, is scheduled for June 28.
“If all goes well … we can start doing things in the orange areas that we have already started doing in the green areas. It would already be a major step forward, “said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe this week.