France - which has recorded close to 20,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic and has the fourth-highest toll in the world - has been in virtual lockdown for nearly five weeks and is due to start lifting some confinement measures from May 11.
Philippe told a news conference that falls in the number of people in intensive care were one of the encouraging signals that pressures on hospitals were easing.
But he shut down any expectations that the gradual exit from confinement in May, due to start with the reopening of schools, would allow people to move around or interact as before, especially as a vaccine against the virus was still far off.
“It won’t be a return to normal life,” Philippe said, adding that as France introduces more testing, people with coronavirus would have to remain isolated at home or in hotels laid on by the government. “From May 11, we will enter a second phase, when we will regain some of our freedoms.”
The French state has given few details yet of the pace at which businesses like cinemas or bars will reopen, only saying that as some stores open up again, people will have to maintain safe distances from each other.