Coronavirus is "under control" in France, which will not impose another nationwide lockdown even in the event of a second wave in the autumn, according to the head of the country's scientific council.
"We can reasonably say the virus is currently under control," Jean-Francois Delfraissy, the president of the scientific council advising the French government on public health strategy during the epidemic, told France Inter radio.
"The virus is still circulating, in certain regions in particular... but it is circulating slowly."
The number of daily deaths has fallen, with just 44 reported by the health ministry on Thursday and 1,163 patients in intensive care – well below the peak of more than 7,000 critical cases in early April.
Dr Delfraissy said around 1,000 new cases were currently being reported in France per day, down from around 80,000 in early March, before nationwide confinement orders were issued.
France's scientific council has listed four possible scenarios the country faces with the epidemic in the coming months.
In the best-case scenario, the virus will disappear or remain at very low levels. Failing that, a second critical cluster could appear, as in eastern France at the start of the epidemic.
A third scenario sees a slow deterioration of the general situation in autumn with more hospitalisations. In the worst-case scenario, France returns to a "critical deterioration" of infections and hospital pressure.
De Delfraissy said there was a 50 per cent chance of a second wave this autumn but added that, even in the worst case, the country would not return to a blanket nationwide lockdown.
He told Le Parisien: "The scientific council, what we are saying is: whatever happens, we will not be able to rerun a blanket lockdown in France. The first time it was essential, we had no choice, but the price we have to pay is too high.
"The population would certainly not accept it, the economic consequences would be major and, even from a health point of view, this is not desirable – do not forget that, apart from Covid, there were all the other patients who had delays in diagnosis during this period."
He added, however, that some areas could see the return of local lockdown measures if they showed a cluster of cases, saying: "I am firmly convinced that if it starts up again, it will start up again in the Paris region."
While the virus has not disappeared, he said it was now under control thanks to the targeted testing and tracing strategy now in place but also to the virus itself.
"It is visibly less likely to circulate when temperatures rise. Barring exceptional events, the situation is under control for the next few weeks and even the summer months," he said.
France initially suffered one of the highest levels of infections and deaths in Europe but its draconian nationwide lockdown brought case numbers down and the death toll now stands at 29,065, below that of the UK and Italy.
Dr Delfraissy conceded that France had been too slow with its testing programme, saying: "At the beginning of March, we were doing about 4,000 tests a day, whereas the Germans were already at about 70,000. Now we have caught up and are at the same level as them, at last."
France is now conducting a test and trace strategy in which everyone who tests positive provides a list of contacts who are then called and tested. This week, it also rolled out its coronavirus tracing app, StopCovid.
Some scientists believe the virus will recede during the summer months but a second wave may strike this autumn.
Dr Delfaissy said: "If we look at the history of major pandemics of respiratory viruses, we see that eight out of 10 regress spontaneously in European countries during the summer.
"On the other hand, you have five out of 10 that recur in the autumn. We must remain extremely vigilant.”