By Benoit Van Overstraeten
PARIS (Reuters) - The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to peak in France but the outlook is improving with the potential arrival of vaccines in the coming months, a senior government scientific adviser said on Friday.
"Even though the vaccine will not solve everything and, even though 2021 will not be an ordinary year, I see light at the end of the tunnel", immunologist Jean-François Delfraissy told the newspaper Le Monde in an interview.
Delfraissy was one of the first key government advisers to warn of a looming second wave of the respiratory disease in France, which went back into lockdown on Oct. 30 for at least a month.
Less stringent than in March, the latest restrictions have succeeded in lowering daily new infections and eased pressure on the French health system. The number of people hospitalised for COVID-19 sharply declined for a third day running on Thursday.
"Some indicators suggest we've reached the peak or at least that we're not far from it in some parts of the country. Nevertheless, it's still too early to affirm it definitively," Delfraissy said.
The positive trend has led to calls to start loosening the lockdown as soon as possible ahead of the Christmas holiday season. Measures including the reopening of all shops and authorisation to travel across the country are under discussion.
President Emmanuel Macron is due to provide an outline next week.
"It's likely we will not be able to have a normal situation during the festive season," Delfraissy said.
The daily tally of cases is unlikely to fall below the 5,000 threshold before the end of the year, he said, much less the end of November targeted by Macron.
New daily infections reached on all-time high of 86,852 on Nov. 7 and the seven-day moving average stood that day at 54,440. As of Thursday, this indicator has more than halved, to 26,797, but remains five times higher than Macron's target.
With almost 2.1 million confirmed cases, France ranks fourth in the world behind the United States, India and Brazil. Its number of COVID-19 deaths, at 47,127, is the seventh highest.
(Editing by John Irish and Mark Heinrich)