By Geert De Clercq
PARIS (Reuters) - French authorities reported the smallest daily rise in new coronavirus cases and deaths on Sunday since before a lockdown began on March 17, raising hopes that the worst of the epidemic is over in France.
The number of confirmed cases rose by 115 to 144,921, health ministry data showed, and the death toll increased by 35 to 28,367 - an increase of just 0.1% for both tallies.
The weekend totals for new cases and deaths were also both the lowest since France began easing its strict coronavirus restrictions on May 11.
Epidemiologist Laurent Toubiana, director of the IRSAN health data institute, suggested the worst of the epidemic had passed and said the coronavirus may not come back, unlike previous pandemics such as the 1918 Spanish flu.
"If we do not see a quick resurgence of the epidemic, we might get a break for a few weeks," he said on BFM TV.
Despite the easing of restrictions, social distancing rules remain in place in France and Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne told France Inter radio the government did not want people to travel abroad this summer.
She also said Paris parks must remain closed for now as the capital is still a "red zone" for circulation of the coronavirus.
The new data showed that, because of slower data reporting and with patients staying in hospital longer over the long holiday weekend, the number of people admitted to hospital with the coronavirus had increased by seven to 17,185.
It was the first increase in weeks. Until now, the number had fallen every day since April 15.
But the number of people in intensive care continued its uninterrupted decline, falling by 10 to 1,655. It was the slowest decline since the peak of the crisis, when 7,148 people were in intensive care.
(Reporting by Geert De Clercq, Editing by Timothy Heritage)