PARIS (Reuters) – People who invite friends to their home over the upcoming long Ascension weekend should wear masks, air out the house after their friends leave and disinfect contact surfaces such as doorknobs, France’s health ministry chief said.

Speaking for the first time since a strict nationwide lockdown ended on May 11, Jerome Salomon warned people to maintain a safe distance when socialising with friends and family not seen in weeks.

“The virus is still there, and it is murderous,” he said.

On the ninth day after a 55-day lockdown ended, the number of new coronavirus infections recorded has not picked up significantly compared with the last week of lockdown.

The number of confirmed cases reported on Tuesday rose by 524 to 143,427, an increase of 0.4%, slightly higher than the average 0.3% per day seen since the end of lockdown, but well below the average 0.8% seen in the last two weeks of lockdown.

In the first two weeks following the start of lockdown on March 17, the number of infections increased by 15% to 20% per day, with a peak of 7,578 new infections on March 31.

Italy, which ended lockdown a week before France, has also not seen a pick-up of the infection rate so far, and even saw the infection rate fall to an average 0.4% in the second week post-lockdown compared with 0.6% in the first week.

Spain too has seen infection rates slow down since lockdown ended two weeks ago. On Tuesday, Spain’s case count rose by just 0.1% to 232,037.

In a sign that pressure on the French hospital system continued to ease, the number of people hospitalised with coronavirus infection fell by 547 to 18,468, and the number of people in intensive care by 104 to 1,894.

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq and Henri-Pierre Andre; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alex Richardson)